Kraft execs are learning from acculturation study

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Results from the first phase of ACNielsen's Homescan Hispanic Panel in Los Angeles prove that Hispanics' purchasing behavior is powerfully linked to acculturation levels.

Kraft Foods, one of the sponsors of the Hispanic panel, is using the findings to help shape marketing strategies. Kraft executives said the company is beginning to integrate the new data into its planning process.

"The Hispanic panel gives us new insights into the preferences of households at certain key stages of acculturation, which generally means how long they have been in the U.S. and how much their purchases mirror mainstream consumers," said Tom Gee, a Kraft category insight manager.


To determine acculturation levels, more than 500 Los Angeles Hispanic households are participating in the panel; each household is categorized according to whether it speaks or prefers Spanish only; Spanish or English equally; or English only.

Households keep track of each purchase they make using a hand-held scanner. Each week the households send the results to Nielsen by telephone. Nielsen then compiles household shopping patterns based on household acculturation level by product and category.

Kraft said there are surprises. For example, less acculturated Hispanic consumers tend to buy far fewer prepared foods such as canned soups and frozen vegetables (See chart below).

Unacculturated Hispanics also tend to use more sour cream and cooking oil compared with mainstream audiences, and many are already using Kraft brands, which the company found surprising.

"We discovered a lot of recent immigrants are buying Knudsen, our sour cream brand on the West Coast, and doing so in great quantities, so there was a case where we used the data to shape a strategy of increasing our share," Mr. Gee said.

When unacculturated Hispanics arrive in the U.S., they are likely to seek out instant coffee, which is common in Mexico, but a high number of immigrants soon adopt ground coffee, said Jorge Calvazhi, Kraft's research manager for ethnic marketing.


That discovery told Kraft there are opportunities to promote its Yuban instant coffee, then switch this Spanish-dominant audience to Yuban ground coffee, he said.

The information is helping the company determine how much to allocate to local Hispanic ad budgets.

"It's like a chicken-and-egg question here because the data is helping us understand who's out there, and how much to spend targeting them . . . Certain product categories didn't get the marketing funding they deserved," Mr. Calvazhi said.

"Now that we know some specific tendencies of Spanish-only households, it gives us a great deal of insight about where to concentrate our dollars," Mr. Gee said.

"We see that unacculturated Hispanics tend to have larger families, they buy a lot of produce and bulk foods and they make fewer, bigger trips to the supermarket. Initially, they rely less on frozen vegetables, but over time they begin to adopt them more, which informs our marketing strategy for targeting this sector," he said.

Nielsen said clients are gradually incorporating the findings of the Hispanic panel into their long-term planning, and when more cities are added, marketers may be able to make more decisions affecting national marketing plans.

"Eventually we'll have year-to-year data to measure even more specifically how fast consumers are acculturating, and how that affects purchasing behavior," said Ken Greenberg, director of marketing for Homescan.

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