MARKETING TO HISPANICS;RESEARCHERS PREPARING NEW OFFERING: VOLUME DATA;INFO TO ANSWER PERENNIAL QUERY OF WHAT HAPPENS AT CHECKOUTS

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After years of slow growth in researching the Hispanic world, marketers are about to see volumetric data on the country's fastest growing minority group.

Information on Hispanic spending power and buying habits have emerged in recent years. But forthcoming products could give marketers a glimpse of what actually happens at the checkout counter, just like at general-market retailers.

The demand for such research has grown as advertisers undertake increasingly sophisticated marketing activities for Hispanics, says Gary Berman, president of Market Segment Research & Consulting, a Hispanic marketing consultancy.

"Their expectations are understandably rising about corresponding research to help guide their efforts," says Mr. Berman. "Clients are demanding accurate measurements to assess their return on investment."

"Now the risk of losing [market share] is higher, so we need to make all of our decisions with a lot more information," says Isaac Lasky, an executive overseeing global marketing for American Express Moneygram, which has seen huge growth in the Mexican-American market.

Market Segment is working with Information Resources Inc. to measure volumetric data for package-goods companies at the retail level, Mr. Berman says.

The work with IRI, which began in January, will offer Hispanic item movement data drawn from among IRI's universe of more than 10,000 stores nationwide (the company has historically used 2,700 stores for its sampling). The data then will be collated to give information from Hispanic-area stores.

IRI and Market Segment won't be alone in this quest.

Though a project between Nielsen Market Research and Hispanic Market Connections to measure store data stalled in March 1995, the companies are working to restart the effort, says Isabel Valdez, president of Hispanic Market Connections and author of "Hispanic Market Handbook."

The researchers are trying to bring bona fide measurement to the Hispanic market-something others claim to offer, but few provide, says Ms. Valdez. Univision and Kraft Foods have pledged money to get the project going again, she says.

"It doesn't matter what they tell you about store data. Nobody knows," she says. "Until we get true in-house measurement, it's a joke."

This is exactly the direction Hispanic market research needs to go, says Ernest Bromley, chairman-CEO of Sosa, Bromley, Aguilar, Noble & Associates, San Antonio, Texas.

Knowing sales figures from mass merchants, grocery and drug stores and neighborhood markets remains "the last major piece of the puzzle," says Mr. Bromley.

For Sosa clients like Coca-Cola Co., Procter & Gamble Co. and M&M/Mars, the issue can be "very problematic," he says. "You should be looking at case movement data as well as attitudinal data."

Within five years, marketers tapping the Hispanic community should have at their disposal sophisticated data to plan strategy, Mr. Bromley says. Just as mushrooming Hispanic media expenditures-which have grown from $50 million in 1985 to $350 million today-require a growing media research component to build strategy, the development of market research is a "natural pro-gression" stalled only by limited corporate investment, he says.

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