Study: Habits and Preferences of Hispanic Shoppers

Unilever Releases Most Extensive Research of Its Kind

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A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.
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CINCINNATI ( -- Hispanic shoppers are far less satisfied with supermarkets, drug stores and other high-frequency retail outlets than the general population -- and while they shop at super-centers much less than the general population, they prefer big-box stores when they're available, according to data from a new study released today by Unilever.
A typical Hispanic shopper browses the Cuban bread racks in a Publix store in the West Hialeah, Fla. Unilever's study found significant differences in the behavior of Latino and general-market shoppers.
A typical Hispanic shopper browses the Cuban bread racks in a Publix store in the West Hialeah, Fla. Unilever's study found significant differences in the behavior of Latino and general-market shoppers.

Four cities
Results of the study in four major Hispanic markets -- New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Miami -- also found Hispanic shoppers are highly resistant to using frequent-shopper cards because of privacy concerns.

The study is the first extensive behavioral research on Hispanic shoppers, said Mike Twitty, senior group research manager for shopper insights at Unilever.

"It's the first time anybody really has measured Hispanic shopping behavior," Mr. Twitty said. "Most of the other research out there in the marketplace is based on what shoppers said they did. But people have a tendency to overstate their behaviors."

Unilever Hispanic initiative
The study is part of Unilever's effort to step up Hispanic marketing, including boosting Hispanic marketing spending 47% this year. Part of that boost is expected to come behind the summer launch of its Sunsilk hair-care brand, which is popular in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America.

Though he didn't comment specifically on Sunsilk, Mr. Twitty said: "Increasingly, we will be targeting products that meet this population's needs and preferences."

The company's One Unilever restructuring, which includes a Unilever Americas unit encompassing North, Central and South America, is aiding those efforts, said Eileen Kozin, director-consumer futures and new capabilities.

"We all sit on the same team and interact on a daily basis, so we're much more attuned with what’s going on in Latin America, and we can build innovations across the Americas," Ms. Kozin said.

3,600 shopping trips
Unilever's research, which looked at diaries and shopping receipts involving more than 3,600 shopping trips by 799 consumers, found Hispanic shoppers in general shop much more like the general market than previously thought, but also are much less satisfied with their shopping experience than previously thought, he said.

"Only 35% of Hispanic shoppers are completely satisfied with their shopping experience today," he said. "In the general market, that number is 58%."

The findings would seem to indicate a need for stores serving large Hispanic populations to stock more products from their shoppers' home countries, try new Hispanic-oriented formats such as that used by Publix in Florida, and offer more bilingual signage or Spanish-speaking employees to help Hispanic shoppers, Ms. Kozin said.

Compared to the general market, Hispanic consumers in the study were only half as likely to shop at super-centers, but twice as likely to shop at drug or health stores. Much of that result, however, stems from lack of super-centers in such markets as New York and Los Angeles, Mr. Twitty said.

Houston super-centers
"The only area we looked at that had a really high concentration of super-centers was Houston," he said. "And in Houston, Hispanics use super-centers very heavily."

The implication appears to be that if Wal-Mart Stores could overcome local-government opposition to citing more stores in and around New York or Los Angeles, it could easily attract Hispanic shoppers.

Not surprisingly, urban Hispanics are far more likely than the general U.S. population to walk or take public transportation to stores, Mr. Kozin said, adding that supermarkets offering shuttle service in Los Angeles have had considerable success in improving rings.

Supermarkets and drug stores have had far less success, however, getting Hispanics to use frequent-shopper cards.

Frequent-shopper cards
Though 51% of Hispanic consumers in the study had frequent-shopper cards, only 44% of those who had them used them. This is despite the fact that Hispanic consumers are more value-conscious and prone to buy products on promotion than the general population, suggesting they're losing considerable savings because of fear of sharing personal data.

Mr. Twitty suggested stores set up separate Spanish-language sign-up efforts that highlight privacy protections and tailor special offers, such as rewards for children, to encourage Hispanics to participate in the programs.

The study shows Hispanic shoppers plan more and spend less per trip because they buy more ingredients and cook more at home rather than using more highly processed or prepared foods. "They don't do as many of those uneconomical quick trips that the rest of the U.S. market seems to be caught up in," Mr. Twitty said.

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CORRECTION: The original version of this story said the Unilever survey was based on a study of more than 3,600 consumers. That was not accurate. The survey studied 3,600 shopping trips made by 799 consumers.
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