If you were in downtown Phoenix last weekend, chances are you at least caught a whiff of Food City’s  10th Annual Tamale Festival . From all accounts, it was quite a party, complete with mariachi bands, a parade, promotional booths and, of course, the tamale cook-off, which last year sold more than 75,000 tamales.
The Bashas’ -owned banner also teamed up with the local Health and Human Services department on a booth that offered free diabetes and blood pressure screenings. Which might seem like a damper on the whole affair (no more tamales for you!), but for the steady stream of people that stopped by throughout the day.
This is important to note for supermarkets grappling with how to address the health needs of their Hispanic shoppers. Companies love a good fiesta as much as anybody, and have embraced many of the cultural traditions of this fast-growing demographic that now makes up one out of every five people in this country. But how, they wonder, do you sell health and wellness without coming off like the gringo who’s telling them what to eat?
The answer, according to a few industry sources interviewed over the past week, is neither as simple nor as complicated as it seems.
“Everybody coming through the door is looking for the same thing,” said Georgia Orcutt, program manager with Oldways , a nonprofit organization that focuses on nutrition education. “They’re looking for bargains. They’re looking for good prices and good information.”
Just like mainstream consumers, Hispanic shoppers are looking for value. They’re also looking for a bit of shopping theater, fun events, and merchandising that speaks to them.
At the same time, it’s important to note the cultural distinctions where they exist. Martin Ferro, senior planner for market research firm The Integer Group  and its Hispanic service, Velocidad, notes that, while Hispanics look for value most of the year, they cast it aside during holidays and major shopping events.
“They care more about indulging their families during the holidays, and less about value,” he said.
The best way to reach Hispanic shoppers, according to Ferro, is through the young women in the family. They’re the ones making most of the meal decisions and looking out for the health of their children. They also like to bring their families along on shopping trips, to make the outing into an event.
And while health information is most effective when it comes from a fellow Hispanic — some supermarkets now have bilingual dietitians for this reason — these shoppers won’t be turned off by good advice. They just don’t want to be talked down to.
Make it relevant, make it fun — make it a tamale festival.
(Photo credit: Barbara Ruhs at Bashas')