How Culturally Relevant Food Marketing Promotes Health

Informed marketing acknowledges the diverse backgrounds, dietary preferences, traditions and values of different cultural demographics
Barbara Ruhs, MS, RDN
Owner of MarketRD.com
Barbara Ruhs
Ginger
Ginger and turmeric are spices with anti-inflammatory properties used in Indian cuisine.

As diet-related chronic diseases disproportionately affect African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and other minority groups in the United States, culturally relevant food marketing offers a powerful opportunity for retailers and food brands to improve customer health. Culturally relevant food marketing is the practice of tailoring marketing to specific cultural groups or communities. It’s informed marketing that acknowledges the diverse backgrounds, dietary preferences, traditions and values of different cultural demographics. 

A good example of culturally relevant food marketing of menu localization can be found at McDonald’s restaurants across the globe: In India, a chicken maharaja burger is offered as an option to beef burgers (cows are a sacred animal there), while poutine, a traditional dish of fries covered in gravy and cheese curds, is on the menu in Canada. 

[Read more: "The Top Foods and Beverages Trending With Retail Dietitians"]

As the U.S. population continues to grow and become more diverse, adopting culturally relevant food marketing is more important than ever. Over the past decade, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that population growth came exclusively from racial and ethnic minority groups. Out of 333 million Americans, 58% identify as white. Of the remaining 42% of Americans that identify as people of color, 19% are Hispanic or Latino, 13.5% are Black or African American, and 6% are Asian. 

Increasing awareness, knowledge and availability of culturally relevant foods can positively affect public health in the following ways.

Increase Fresh Produce Consumption

Dietitians are known to simplify nutrition recommendations to empower consumers to embrace healthy eating. Unfortunately, sometimes overly simplified nutrition recommendations may inadvertently have negative consequences. For example, many of us RDs have recommended “eating a rainbow,” to encourage the consumption of fruits and vegetables. However, if your cultural food traditions rely heavily on white, beige or brown produce items such as potatoes, taro, white corn, onions, daikon, jicama, tamarind and mushrooms, it may not be obvious that these foods fit into a healthy diet. 

Culturally relevant food marketing goes beyond the rainbow, giving retailers an opportunity to highlight unique produce items by featuring them in ads, online, and in authentically prepared meal items that can attract and delight a diverse customer audience. Celebrating cultural diversity starts by understanding your audience, being authentic and customizing marketing so that it connects with your unique base of customers. 

Sell More Diverse Superfoods

“Superfood” is a marketing term that isn’t clearly defined or regulated; however, with more than 228 million search results online, it’s obvious that consumers are hungrier than ever for superfoods to fill their carts. Foods that qualify as “superfoods” are nutrient-dense and offer additional beneficial nutrients that generally include one of the following: antioxidants, omega-3 fats, prebiotics. probiotics, vitamins, minerals, fiber or plant-based protein. In addition to the typical list of foods that have reached superfood status, there’s a bountiful opportunity to connect with more diverse customers through the inclusion of more culturally relevant superfoods. 

These are just a few examples of superfoods found across the globe that are both affordable and super-nutritious:

  • Okra, used in African and Caribbean cuisine, has anti-inflammatory benefits.
  • Chickpeas, lentils and fava beans, found in Middle Eastern cuisine, are a fiber-rich plant-based protein source.
  • Ginger and turmeric are spices with anti-inflammatory properties used in Indian cuisine. 

Seize the Opportunity

Cultural relevance in food marketing not only helps to reach and improve the health of a wider, more diverse audience, it’s also an opportunity for retailers to increase sales, customer loyalty and community engagement. 

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