LANGUAGE SKILLS

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Ozzie and Harriet don't live here anymore.That oversimplification sums up the changing demographic landscape retailers are facing now and will face in the years to come. The mass market most supermarkets appeal to is no longer homogeneous Caucasian married couples with children. That majority is quickly becoming a minority, and what used to be specialty niche markets, notably Hispanics,

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Ozzie and Harriet don't live here anymore.

That oversimplification sums up the changing demographic landscape retailers are facing now and will face in the years to come. The mass market most supermarkets appeal to is no longer homogeneous Caucasian married couples with children. That majority is quickly becoming a minority, and what used to be specialty niche markets, notably Hispanics, are rapidly entering the mainstream.

There are big changes ahead for the demographic fabric of the United States, according to a new study from GMDC. Tailoring stores and nonfood product mixes to appeal to the fast-growing Hispanic population is not a question of "if," but "when."

In fact, the report indicates that many retailers in diverse parts of the country might be surprised to find that "when" is now. The study, "Multicultural Marketing," from the New York-based Educational Foundation of GMDC, Colorado Springs, Colo., will be unveiled this weekend during the trade group's annual HBC Marketing Conference here.

"You are talking about long-term survival because if you don't address multicultural issues in marketing, then you may not survive. It's that important," said Roy White, vice president, education, GMDC Educational Foundation. "The demographics of our country are moving into a much more varied population than ever before."

Combining numbers for Hispanics, African-Americans and Asians, minority buying power will increase by more than 40% from 2004 to 2009, when it will be nearly $2.5 trillion, according to the study, which attributed the statistics to the Selig Center for Economic Growth, University of Georgia, Athens, Ga. Hispanics will represent the largest part of that $714 billion growth, with $306 billion.

Meanwhile, the total Hispanic population as tallied by the U.S. Census Bureau, which excludes undocumented immigrants, will grow 68% from 35.6 million in 2000 to 59.7 million in 2020, the GMDC study reported. The study focuses primarily on the Hispanic market because of size of the opportunity and the interest of GMDC's members, White said. Sponsors of the study include Johnson & Johnson, ACNielsen, Premier Greetings, Revlon, Information Resources, Unilever, Schick and Fujifilm.

The study strives to present a "blueprint" to those who want to address this market with GM and HBC products, White said. Using the visual theme of a house, its seven main points speak to cultural relevance; finding information, with emphasis on tapping suppliers; carrying the right products; showing family-oriented Hispanics that the retailer cares about them; putting on celebrations based on Hispanic holidays and traditions; making promotions, merchandising, marketing, pricing and advertising consistent with consumer expectations; and building a culture for the stores that is inviting and comfortable for the Hispanic shopper.

"The most important thing for people to understand is that there has never in the history of this country been a customer group that will have collectively as much influence on the industry as the growing Hispanic population," said Jim Wisner, president, Wisner Marketing Group, Libertyville, Ill. Wisner served as project manager and author of the GMDC report.

The study is one of the largest undertaken by the GMDC Educational Foundation, Wisner noted. It addresses a multi-faceted group united by a common language and a love of family, but which in some ways differs as much from itself as it does from the general population. However, it also has the potential to influence a broader range of consumers more than other minority groups.

"The bigger issue that we have as an industry will ultimately be less how well we service the Hispanic consumer, and perhaps even more how well we bring the Hispanic culture into the mainstream," Wisner said.

Appealing to Hispanic consumers with nonfoods is challenging because of the differences in nationalities and levels of acculturation as new immigrants spend more time in this country and as later generations become both bilingual and bicultural. Education and income also make a difference as to preference for GM and HBC products from their country of origin.

"There are two different types of Hispanic customers: first generation and folks who have been here for a while," said a nonfood executive with a Texas retailer. "So you need two different types of marketing programs." When it comes to the third generation, "they are going to buy basically whatever you sell," he said.

Reflecting on the preferences of his own children, Simon El Hage Lisha, director of strategic marketing and client services for the advertising, marketing and public relations firm Lopez Negrete, Houston, noted that marketing to that generation of Hispanics is "tricky." Although they try to be part of the mainstream, buying clothes from upscale stores, "once in a while they want to feel their heritage, but it's hard to understand how and when," he said.

When it comes to HBC, he noted that the Hispanic market offers strong potential because of a long tradition of cleanliness. "But we grew up in most countries consuming American brands." Colgate is especially popular, he noted.

Supermarkets shouldn't overanalyze the market, he said. "We want the same brand as our neighbor is buying. Just make sure that the signage is there and the customer service is there because Hispanics tend to expect more customer service." Bilingual packaging is another need that manufacturers have to address, he added.

Through its own survey research, the GMDC study found that 46% of Hispanic customers polled in a Los Angeles suburb didn't care whether English or Spanish were spoken in the supermarket. Also the study found that supermarkets were the preferred location for buying nonfood brands from Hispanics' home countries, at 41.1%, compared with 36.4% for Hispanic grocery stores.

While specialized food preparation items remain in demand and cleaning products tend to be big sellers as the habit of keeping a clean house is passed down through the generations, retailers have found little difference in the health and beauty care aisle because many American HBC products are available in other countries.

The key to tapping GM and HBC sales opportunities in the Hispanic market is "understanding who the consumer is, their culture, their lifestyle and hence their needs," said Larry Ishii, general manager, GM/HBC, Unified Western Grocers, Commerce, Calif. For example, the Hispanic consumer is very family-oriented, and from that follows a preference for certain foods, especially high- quality perishables, and then special utensils for food preparation, such as stock pots, steamer pots and certain types of frying pans.

Also with their attentiveness to children, licensed goods, like a line of children's dishes, bowls and cups, do very well for Unified's retailers among Hispanic shoppers, Ishii said. Although the licensed items are higher priced than other products, they are of good quality and the Hispanic consumers see value in them, he said.

"There's a very strong focus on children and things that their children want. That presents a very, very large opportunity for retailers," Ishii said.

Hispanics are differentiated from other consumers by more than language, said Bill Mansfield, vice president, general merchandise and HBC, Retail Food Division, Pueblo International, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Mansfield formerly held top-level nonfood positions with several prominent U.S. retailers. "There is a vast variety of cultural differences and product preferences that we as retailers need to identify and have those products available for the customers who would love to buy them." He suggested that store managers are in the best position to know what their customers want.

In the United States, it takes a strong commitment to the Hispanic community to succeed. "You can't just put Paces picante sauce on the shelf and call it Hispanic marketing. That's a mistake the U.S. supermarkets make. It's much, much deeper." While some U.S. retailers have failed in their attempts to appeal to Hispanic retailers, others like H-E-B, Bashas' and Minyards have done very well.

"Know your customer and learn not only what the customer wants to buy, but the conditions and atmosphere in which they want to buy it," Mansfield said.

At Bashas', Chandler, Ariz., Bryon Roberts, vice president, general merchandise, attributed the company's success with its Hispanic-focused Food City chain to having a separate management team. Running it as an independent company "has allowed us to make decisions that are specific to Food City that work better for their customer," he said.

The company has also learned from Food City which products should be carried by its Bashas' stores to appeal to their Hispanic customers, Roberts said.

There are opportunities for retailers, but suppliers also need to learn more about this potential, Ishii said. "There are still many vendors who don't understand how to market to the Hispanic population and don't understand the Hispanic consumer. Some don't even realize that it's the fastest-growing segment," he said.

"From a business standpoint, there is a flat-out huge opportunity there to increase sales and profits," Ishii said.