SEAFOOD MARKETERS SHOULD COURT HISPANICS: CONSULTANT

BOSTON -- When it comes to selling fish and seafood to Hispanic consumers, mainstream retailers have barely scratched the surface of a huge and potentially lucrative market, an expert on marketing to Hispanics said.Considering there are more than 38 million Hispanics in the United States and these consumers have huge buying power, not to mention a fondness for seafood, retailers would do well to invest

BOSTON -- When it comes to selling fish and seafood to Hispanic consumers, mainstream retailers have barely scratched the surface of a huge and potentially lucrative market, an expert on marketing to Hispanics said.

Considering there are more than 38 million Hispanics in the United States and these consumers have huge buying power, not to mention a fondness for seafood, retailers would do well to invest the time and energy into researching their local markets for sales-building ideas, said Felipe Korzenny, principal and co-founder of the Cheskin Group, a Redwood Shores, Calif.-based marketing research and consulting firm.

Korzenny offered statistics and interesting tidbits covering Hispanic spending and consumption patterns. He cited a 2000 survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that showed Hispanics consumed 1.24 times more seafood and fish than non-Hispanics. By his own calculation, Hispanics spent close to $8.7 billion on fish and shellfish products -- a sizeable share of the $52 billion spent on seafood overall. Close to three-fourths of Hispanics reported preparing seafood at least once per month, and 43% indicated they cooked seafood at least once a week, based on a 2002 market analysis done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"They constitute a most important target for development," he said.

Nearly half (46%) associated eating seafood with an occasion, celebration or day, the USDA analysis showed. Close to 60% of Hispanic cooks reported seldom or never using recipes when cooking.

But Korzenny noted retailers have a long way to go to reach Hispanic seafood consumers. In his visits to supermarkets, Korzenny said he sees many examples of bad merchandising. For example, in most Anglo supermarkets, the presentation of fresh fish does not appeal to Hispanics. While Anglo consumers like fish filets, Hispanic shoppers prefer to see whole fish with eyes and head intact, he said. Hispanics also are turned off by pre-packaged seafood products in self-serve cases because they cannot be sure from the appearance how fresh the fish is.

For these reasons, many Hispanics shop for seafood at small Chinese markets with large displays of fresh fish, he said.

Furthermore, Hispanics value personal interaction. They like having service counters staffed with knowledgeable store associates who can answer questions and make recommendations.

"Hispanics want somebody they can talk to," Korzenny said.

Korzenny acknowledged retailers serving mixed communities will have to strike a balance between catering to their non-ethnic customers and reaching out to Hispanics -- without alienating either group. A sizeable display of head-on fish, while appealing to Hispanic cooks, may not win business from white consumers who prefer boneless portions, he said.

"You have to have alternatives," he said. "It's labor-intensive, but there's no way around it."

Brand marketers of seafood, in particular, have a great opportunity to win loyal consumers, he added. Hispanics in the United States tend to be younger than the average resident -- the median age of a Hispanic living in the United States is 27 years vs. 38 years for the overall market. Many are new to this country and just becoming familiar with consumer brands. That creates a big opportunity for marketers, he said.

He used Colgate as an example of a brand with enormous appeal to Hispanics. Colgate toothpaste is in 75% of all Hispanic homes because "the brand has been attentive to Hispanic households," Korzenny said.

Like any good advertising campaign, promotions that target Hispanics should appeal to them on an emotional level, he said. Pictures stimulate the imagination. Retailers could post photographs of native dishes, demonstrating they care enough about consumers to be aware of their culinary traditions.

"You could make a killing with pictures of paella," Korzenny said, referring to the famous Spanish dish that combines saffron-flavored rice with a variety of shellfish and meats. "You could have a seafood promotion pairing it with saffron."

Hispanic Catholics also have a long-held tradition of eating fish on Fridays, and not just during Lent. The custom presents retailers with a weekly opportunity to build sales, he said.

Korzenny made his comments at this year's International Boston Seafood Show.