Bilingual Employees, Packaging Spark Sales for Grande

An independent operator who converted one of his two stores to a Hispanic format 15 months ago said sales are up 30%, with most of the increase coming after he hired more bilingual employees last April. Tom Evans, owner of Grande Foods, a 35,000-square-foot store in Cornelius, Ore., said bilingual packaging is also an important part of the store's offering, with products carrying bilingual

TIGARD, Ore. — An independent operator who converted one of his two stores to a Hispanic format 15 months ago said sales are up 30%, with most of the increase coming after he hired more bilingual employees last April.

Tom Evans, owner of Grande Foods, a 35,000-square-foot store in Cornelius, Ore., said bilingual packaging is also an important part of the store's offering, with products carrying bilingual labels — including certain health and beauty care items and the Special Value private-label line from his wholesaler, Los Angeles-based Unified Grocers — becoming big sellers.

“Anything we can get that's bilingual, we jump on,” Evans said in a presentation at the 13th annual Executive Forum sponsored here by the Food Industry Leadership Center at Portland State University.

Evans said he would like to use more Latino-oriented point-of-sale materials but complained that key beer and soft drink companies have failed to make those materials available to him. “We know they are available in other markets,” Evans said, “but we're not getting them here.”

Evans said he converted one of his two stores to a Hispanic format in mid-2006 in anticipation of the opening next year of a Wal-Mart Supercenter 10 blocks away. The area around the store is 40% Hispanic.

“One of the things we did wrong when we opened was having too many employees that didn't speak Spanish,” Evans said. “But we learned some Latino customers want to ask questions and communicate in their native language, so we were running into communication problems. Now 95% of the employees speak Spanish.”

Evans said he talks with his employees and customers “to assess what we're doing right and wrong. For example, we originally didn't carry the Goya brand when we opened, but we now have a 12-foot section that is selling very well because we listened to our customers and our employees.”