Beef producers are slowly increasing their marketing efforts to the Hispanic community. Not only has this consumer group demonstrated an affinity for beef, but with 44 million Hispanics now in the U.S., the market is taking on more significance nationally.

For producers in states like Texas and California, the issue is particularly crucial (see “Changing Faces,” page 35, BEEF, May 2006). And while the national Beef Checkoff Program has been supportive of targeted programs to this market, they're also testing the waters to see how else national checkoff dollars can be used for these kinds of efforts.

“The Hispanic market is growing everywhere (in this country),” says Javier Corona, director of Hispanic marketing for HEILBrice, a marketing agency that puts significant focus on the Hispanic market. “If you look at each of the 50 states, you see growth (in number of Hispanics) in just about every one of them.”

The Beef Checkoff Program took another step in 2007 to identify needs of the Hispanic market, funding a pilot test in 12 Albertsons and Lucky Stores in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and El Centro, CA, as well as in Las Vegas, NV, to determine the value of communicating specifically to this audience. Included were bilingual peel-off recipe labels, posters, a beef cuts and dishes dictionary for Hispanic shoppers, and a manual for retailers on how best to market beef to Hispanics.

The results were dramatic. Managers at all participating stores believed they were selling more thin meats, which are popular with Hispanics, as a result of the promotion. What's more, 51% of Hispanic shoppers interviewed rated the meat department at test stores as excellent, as opposed to 32% at the control stores. And 60% said the staffs at the test stores were knowledgeable about the needs and preferences of Hispanic beef customers, vs. 19% at test stores.

No negative comments were received from stores after the tests. And all participants thought the program boosted sales and improved awareness among their Hispanic shoppers.

No downside

As Hispanics are concentrated in certain parts of the country, it's not a difficult community to target, Corona says. More than half of U.S. Hispanics are in nine major markets: Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco/San Jose, Dallas, Phoenix and San Antonio. Almost 20% of the U.S. Hispanic population — 8.4 million — is in Los Angeles alone.

Laura Norman, California Beef Council (CBC) director of marketing, says about half the people in the Los Angeles area — and a third in California — are Hispanic. Los Angeles is one of the markets CBC is targeting, partnering with retailers that cater to the Hispanic community and utilizing Spanish language radio and television.

Jennifer Matison, Texas Beef Council (TBC) senior manager of consumer marketing, says about a third of Texans today are Hispanic. While the Anglo population is declining, she says, the Hispanic population is increasing. “We can't ignore this population in Texas,” she says.

Norman says producers in her state strongly encouraged the national checkoff program to put more focus in this area. Producers in Texas did the same thing. National program managers were supportive and provided a Spanish language web presence and various Spanish language materials.

“We were a big advocate of increased national attention” on the Hispanic community, Matison says. “From the beginning, TBC worked with the national Beef Checkoff Program to coordinate efforts and share research information and materials.”

Along with CBC, they also helped encourage the formation of the La Carne de Res website (www.lacarnederes.com), which allows Spanish-speaking consumers to get beef recipes and information. Though nationally coordinated, this site is state-specific, so it retains its local appeal, Matison says. “A grassroots focus is key to marketing to Hispanics,” she adds.

“Because of the growing Hispanic population, it's important to reach this audience,” says Crawford Edwards, a Texas beef producer and TBC vice chairman. “Our mission is to promote beef and satisfy our customers. If we don't respond to consumer needs, we won't thrive.”

Great opportunity

Reaching out to Hispanics is a tremendous opportunity, says HEILBrice's Corona. He says beef consumption may be dropping among some segments of the U.S. population, but not among Hispanics, who see beef “as something that's a positive. It makes you strong, healthy and smart,” he says. Furthermore, Hispanics spend more on beef per capita than the general public. For these and other reasons, the Hispanic population is a natural one for the industry to target nationally, Corona says.

To do that, though, Corona says beef companies need to pay more attention to the needs of these shoppers. “Their preference for beef cuts is different,” he says.

In fact, checkoff research found that meat marbling is a negative to most Hispanics. They look for thin, flat cuts that can be used in traditional dishes, with traditional cooking methods. These dishes include carne asada, a thin steak strip, and milanesa, a breaded steak that is often pan-fried.

What's more, 79% of Hispanics prepare their beef well-done, the research showed. A 2005 checkoff-funded study found 62% of the general public wants its burgers well-done, and only 25% prefer their steaks cooked to that degree.

According to the Food Marketing Institute, Hispanics visit grocery stores three times more often than the general population. And they want to go to stores with bilingual employees, bilingual store signs and bilingual packaging.

More people in the beef industry need to see the value of marketing to this audience, Edwards believes. Not only does it increase overall beef purchases, but — because Hispanics often purchase lower value cuts — there is increased carcass utilization and value, he says.

“It's very important that the Hispanic market be addressed on a national level,” Edwards says. “Not only should we be supplying Hispanics with information, but with the cuts they desire.”

Walt Barnhart is a freelance writer and communications consultant based in Littleton, CO.