The fast-growing Hispanic population is influencing overall culture, and in the U.S. a big part of that culture is food. While food marketers may want to reach out specifically to the growing ethnic group with products or positioning that reflects their tastes, they're still concerned that they appeal to the majority of consumers.
"Companies are using Hispanic [references] not only to appeal to Hispanics but also to the general-market consumers; it's a cool, hip thing to be these days," Ms. Benitez says.
When Masterfoods USA's M&M/Mars division started testing in August a Dulce de Leche caramel variety of M&M's, the unit's biggest brand, it was mindful that the flavor had universal appeal, says Roberto Garcia, ethnic marketing manager at M&M/Mars.
"The influence of the Latin American culture on the rest of the population is immense, and it's how we're going to grow our business," Mr. Garcia says. "However, we don't want to sell a product that appeals to only 35 million [the current Hispanic population] when if we appeal to the overall population of 280 million the potential of the product is even bigger."
That said, though, M&M/Mars chose to introduce Dulce de Leche initially to the Hispanic market with Spanish-language TV, and Spanish and English billboards and radio from Zubi Advertising, Coral Gables, Fla. The five test markets-Miami, Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Antonio and McAllen-Brownsville, Texas-have the largest per-capita Latino populations.
"We wanted to introduce [the flavor] first to the segment of the population for whom it will have the greatest acceptability, and say, `We developed this based on your culture, communicated to you first. ... M&M's is an American brand that recognizes your importance,' " Mr. Garcia says.
Such a crossover effect also is evident in Mott's USA's sales for Clamato juice cocktail. A mainstream marketing effort featuring comedian French Stewart failed to drive sales, but ever since Mott's began implementing its Hispanic-targeted efforts for the brand last year, Clamato has grown 12% among Hispanics and, even more interestingly, 9% in the total U.S. market, says a company spokesman.
Clamato's marketing has included a co-promotion with Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser beer, a mixture that appeals to the Dominican population. In-store displays were backed by radio and outdoor ads in the top 12 Hispanic markets, and Clamato was moved to the beer aisle. Dieste & Partners, Dallas, handles.
Hormel Foods aims to capitalize on Hispanic trendiness through authenticity. While the company in the 1980s attempted to take mainstream sauces and make them seem authentic, it has since shifted focus toward marketing brands that have been built among ethnic groups around the world in the hopes that its portfolio will appeal both to "Americans looking for exotic flavors and those that have emigrated from another country," says Steve Lykken, senior product manager of Hormel's Ethnic Group.
For example, Hormel imports a full line of Mexican sauces and ingredients under the Herdez, Dona Maria and Bufalo brands-labels that have established equity in Mexico-and has targeted the relatively niche businesses directly to Mexican audiences with grassroots efforts from the San Jose Group, Chicago. In the U.S., 66% of the Hispanic population is of Mexican origin. However, Mr. Lykken says, as U.S. consumers increasingly get exposed to ethnic cuisine from popular restaurants, they will gravitate toward more authentic tastes, and when they do, Hormel plans to be there.
Kraft Foods recognizes the market for using typical U.S. brands in Latin recipes and has created one of the most extensive Hispanic Web sites, in Spanish and English. The recipe-oriented comidakraft.com has attracted more than 15,000 regular users in less than a year and had about 50,000 visitors in September alone, says Cathy Riordan, Kraft's VP-Internet and e-marketing.
Contributing: Laurel Wentz