THE MOST IMPORTANT HISPANIC TREND YOU HAVEN'T YET SEEN

There's a new Hispanic trend that could have a huge impact on supermarkets. But so far it's only emerged outside of food stores, such as in restaurants and the world of music.That trend is Hispanic fusion. Put simply, Hispanics whose roots trace to various nations are blending their cultures. This trend is impacting acculturated Hispanics who were born and educated in the U.S., and even immigrants

There's a new Hispanic trend that could have a huge impact on supermarkets. But so far it's only emerged outside of food stores, such as in restaurants and the world of music.

That trend is Hispanic fusion. Put simply, Hispanics whose roots trace to various nations are blending their cultures. This trend is impacting acculturated Hispanics who were born and educated in the U.S., and even immigrants who came here when very young.

"There's a pride in being Hispanic," said Paul Mena, senior category manager-Hispanic for Tree of Life, the large U.S. distributor of ethnic, natural, specialty and other products. "To be recognized as a bigger group, Hispanics must celebrate the whole, despite the nuances based on individual cultures."

Mena, a first-generation American whose parents came from Argentina, is closely watching these new developments. And they are getting easier to see, as he explained.

At the Puerto Rican Day parades, other Hispanic groups join in. On the music scene, Californians of Mexican descent, who traditionally listened to Mexican music, are increasingly embracing reggae-tone varieties that draw influences from Puerto Rican, Dominican and other Caribbean cultures. Music is often the leading edge in cultural change, Mena pointed out. And it's only a matter of time before that change touches other aspects of life.

That means food can't be far off. The first signs of change on the food front are emerging in restaurants. Chefs are beginning to practice Hispanic fusion. For instance, Cuban chefs are breaking with tradition by using the Argentine condiment chimichurri to give a tangy flavor to meats, Mena said.

So what does all this mean for supermarkets? They are not expected to see this trend until it becomes more defined in the restaurant segment. Nevertheless, supermarket food suppliers are already beginning to mull fusion ideas, even though it may be as many as five years until the concept really takes off in stores, Mena said. By that time Hispanics, the nation's largest minority, will have an even bigger impact. Hispanic spending power is expected to reach more than $990 billion by 2009, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth.

Retailers may be able to increase overall Hispanic spending if they get the fusion trend right. Can they prepare at this early stage?

Mena suggested two preparation steps. First, retailers should keep close tabs on fusion trends in restaurants and watch to see what retail suppliers do with this concept. Be prepared to embrace the trend when it enters the retail space. Second, when that time comes, don't be ruled by traditional category management principles, because they don't include the fusion concept.

You'll find other news about ethnic marketing in a special supplement inside this week's SN, Pages 29 to 40. This includes a story about an Asian food retailer and another about bilingual in-store ads.

Supermarkets need to stay on top of developments in the emerging ethnic segment, which doesn't play by the same traditional rules as the rest of the business.