Changing demographics in the U.S., most notably among the Hispanic population, mean more opportunities — and more challenges for beef producers to reach a large number of people who enjoy beef on a consistent basis.

The Hispanic population makes up more than 15% of the U.S. population, with numbers expected to grow to more than 50 million by 2015. With the growing population size, disposable income is also growing, providing more opportunities to buy higher-priced protein products, such as beef.

For example, an individual Hispanic consumer will spend on average $326 annually on beef. That's compared to the general population, which spends about $230/consumer on beef, according to checkoff research.

“The bottom line is the Hispanic market is large and getting larger, and they have an affinity for beef,” says Rick Husted, National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) executive director of market research. “They enjoy it, and there are a lot of cultural positives. Family celebrations and the mealtime are important parts of their culture.”

And, while NCBA is still working on putting together a national program, two state beef councils are already reaching out to their Hispanic populations, at the request of those states' producers.

“California and Texas have very large Hispanic populations, and they've done a lot of good work on their own, addressing that market through a number of programs,” Husted adds.

A unique demographic

According to Jennifer Matison, Texas Beef Council (TBC) consumer marketing manager, Hispanics will be the majority population in Texas by 2040. “They've already become the majority minority,” she adds.

At the request of beef producers in Texas, TBC began researching the Hispanic population in 2002. Matison says it's been a slow process getting to know this particular market.

“We want to develop a marketing campaign with a long-lasting effect, something we can build on,” Matison says. “That doesn't come quickly.”

TBC conducted both qualitative and quantitative research in three main Hispanic markets in Texas — Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. Relying on data from focus groups and 500 telephone interviews they found women bought and prepared most of the food, Matison says.

“We also found women don't make all the decisions about meals — the husband is really a key influencer,” Matison adds. “The women are the caregivers and everything they do is for the family.”

There were a few surprising revelations, as well, she adds.

“I was surprised by how positive this segment is toward beef, and how attitudes differ from the general market,” she says. “We aren't defending our position. There hasn't been bad press or a period of time where beef's had to make a comeback,” in this demographic.

Developing a program

Matison says the TBC goal is to reinforce beef as a top choice in the meat case. Hispanic families traditionally eat at home six days/week, and one meal/week at a restaurant.

Because of the emphasis on cooking and eating at home, TBC developed a cooking club — La Reina en la Cocina, translated as “Queen of the Kitchen” — to help facilitate recipe exchanges and cooking discussions.

“We'll launch the cooking clubs in May,” Matison says. “We've learned through our research that they want to get recipes from each other as trusted sources. They've been burned with incorrectly translated recipes, recipes that call for difficult-to-find ingredients, and recipes not developed for their palate.

“We may also be able to use these cooking clubs as ambassadors by pulling them into events in their local communities,” she adds.

TBC also hired a spokesperson — Chef Harry Salazar — for its main campaign. Chef Harry also develops unique recipes and spice rubs created specifically for Hispanic consumers.

While most of the campaign has been targeted at women, Matison says it's important to reach males, too, especially with grilling being a huge part of their lifestyle.

That in mind, one of the 2006 campaign events include La Gran Parrillada, or “The Great Grillout,” a mobile marketing unit where Chef Harry can demonstrate grilling techniques.

Information about all the events will be offered on a Web site, being developed in partnership with NCBA and the California Beef Council (CBC), which is scheduled to be launched this summer.

Marketing to Californians

Where Texas has a relatively new program started, California's Hispanic marketing campaign has been in place since the mid-'90s, says Holly Foster, CBC director of public relations.

Hispanics make up about a third of California's population, but 58% of the Hispanic households reside in Los Angeles. That's where CBC is focusing its efforts.

Foster says Hispanics don't consider themselves heavy beef consumers even though they eat beef more than once/week on average and feel they have room to eat it more often.

“Beef is a status product. As Hispanics move to the U.S., their affluence increases, they're able to get higher-paying jobs and can afford to buy more beef,” Foster says.

“Based on our experience, Hispanics perceive beef as being nutritious and aren't as easily swayed by information thrown at them through the media,” she adds. “From a marketing standpoint, it's easier to get someone who already likes the product to eat it more of it.”

Working with retailers

The CBC has been translating beef recipes into Spanish since the mid '90s. In 1998, CBC began working directly with Hispanic retailers in LA.

“California is unique in that Hispanic retailers in L.A. own chains of stores — 10-20 locations. Also, they're fairly sophisticated operations, very different than the little carnicerías on the corner,” Foster says.

Building relationships with these retailers has taken time. CBC uses a Hispanic-owned L.A. marketing firm to do much of the communication with retailers.

“Retailers were suspicious of this group coming in, offering money and not asking much in return,” Foster says. “It took awhile for them to understand our goals and that all we wanted to see was an increase in beef movement.”

In 2005, CBC continued its Rompe la Rutina (translated as “Breaking the Routine”) campaign, with 113 retailers participating. Retailers are required to report beef movement by pounds; in return, they're able to access point-of-sale materials like Spanish-language beef-cut charts and recipe brochures, radio promotions, event marketing assistance and press kits.

CBC also launched a Web site: www.megustalacarnederes.com (translated as “I like beef”) to provide Spanish-language beef recipes and cooking tips.

“We're currently working with NCBA and TBC to create a more comprehensive Web site,” Foster adds. “We also have a large, general-market retailer interested in using the Hispanic Web site to reach Hispanic consumers. There may be some chances of cross-promotion.

In 2006, CBC changed its campaign theme to La Carne de Res. Que Buena Es (translated as “Beef, how great it is”). CBC will complete its first promotion of the year in May with Superior Super Warehouse, a 24-unit chain. Ten Hispanic stores representing 141 units have already committed to working with CBC in its 2006 campaign. Foster says the growth in Hispanic store numbers in L.A. during the past year is a testament to how quickly this market continues to grow.

“It's not just Hispanic retailers we're assisting,” Foster says. “General market retailers that operate stores in areas with significant Hispanic population are also looking for our help.”