view current print edition




Finding tropical gateway crop is elusive proposition

by Tim Linden | October 27, 2011

Decades ago a retailer could tell an ethnic area by the consumption of avocados. Long a staple in Mexico, if a store, in say Florida, registered an unusual amount of avocado sales, it was a good indicator there was a high percentage of Hispanics in that store’s marketing region. Avocados went mainstream many years ago and they no longer foretell the ethnicity of a store’s customers.

For the past decade or so, mangos had played that role. But that is no longer a barometer, according to Manuel Hevia Jr., a principal at M&M Farm Inc. in Miami. “Everyone eats mangos now,” he said. “That doesn’t tell you anything.”

Mark Vertrees, marketing manager for the same firm, said yuca might be the new gateway crop. Often called a cassava, the yuca is a potato-type root. Not yet mainstream, it is somewhat of a staple in the diet of many different Hispanic groups. If yuca sales are significantly greater than the average at a particular retailer, there is a very good chance that store has Hispanic clientele from one region or another.

Jesse Capote, one of the principals at J&C Tropicals in Miami, agreed that mangos have “crossed over into a category. They are now consumed by all demographics.”

But he still believes a careful look at the sales of mangos can paint a picture of the demographics of any store. He said if strong sales are consistent year-round, it probably means the demographics of that store are such that it has many customers who grew up with mangos, which hints that other tropicals will also do well.

Sales of papayas can also give a good insight into the makeup of a store’s community. It is another item that has crossed over, though those with roots in the Caribbean will consume the item at much higher rate.

Root crops, such as malanga and boniatos, are also favorites of Hispanic consumers.

Mr. Capote said if a chain has brisk sales of ginger root that may be a good indication that there is a local demographic that needs to be explored. Ginger root has crossed over and is carried in virtually every well-stocked produce department in the country, yet typical Anglo shoppers are occasional users while many Hispanics use it in their dishes much more often.

Both Mr. Vertrees and Mr. Capote reiterated that when marketing to Hispanics one has to be discerning. “Hispanics are not all alike,” Mr. Capote said. “Your analysis is flawed if you launch a Hispanic program and treat every group the same.”

He also said that demographics have to be reviewed often to note changes. There are more than one million Cubans in Florida. But recently, Mr. Capote said, Florida has been drawing many immigrants from Colombia, Venezuela and Honduras. “And they don’t eat the same as Cubans,” he said.

Mr. Capote said the influx of Central Americans and South Americans into Florida is mirroring what is happening all over the country. He said it used to be rare to bump into Cubans in the Midwest, but that is no longer the case.

The overarching theme for these providers of tropicals is that native eaters are all over the country and it will do any retailer well to consider the demographics of their clientele and start providing programs for each nationality they serve.