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Retailer Panel Excites at HR360 Summit


A presentation by Texas-based pizza chain Pizza Patron and a panel discussion featuring executives from Northgate, Kroger and Walmart were among the highlights of the 2014 Hispanic Retail 360 Summit. Celebrating its 10th year, the three-day event kicked off Wednesday in San Antonio.

Led by Nielsen Hispanic market director Rick Parra, the panel discussion focused on the evolving and assimilating Hispanic consumer. Emphasis was on proper use of data, addressing acculturation and moving away from “silos” to a total market approach.

“Our customers are becoming more acculturated,” said Tom Herman, SVP of Northgate Gonzalez Market, a traditional Hispanic grocery chain. “Customers are becoming more acculturated. In addition to the foreign-born, the second and third generations are growing.”

At Kroger, many decisions are driven by data. “What’s most important is how we use that data,” said Angel Colón, director of multicultural development. “Data tells you how to optimize stores regardless of who you are.”

At Walmart, “total market” has included doing away with Hispanic-specific initiatives like its Supermercado Walmart format. “We didn’t move forward with it because it was telling people our other stores wouldn’t work for them,” said Javier M. Delgado-Granados, director of marketing.

On the food service end, Andrew Gamm, brand director, explained how Pizza Patrón created toppings and pizza that appeal to the Latino pallet. It has backed efforts with “disruptive” advertising that has generated national publicity. While reports are always negative, all the exposure has significantly boosted sales and improved the chain’s credibility with its first-generational Mexican-American customer.

Another company with an unusual history is Curacao. Founder Jerry Azarkman told how he arrived in the U.S. from Israel in 1973 with no college education, no green card, little money and unable to speak English or Spanish. Azarkman spent his last few dollars on TV games that he sold to Hispanic consumers at a profit. Today, Curacao’s sales are $50 million. The business is driven largely by a program that targets people who cannot obtain credit through traditional means.

Conference attendees were also drawn to the conference’s Cultural Immersion Tour. Highlights included a visit to HEB Plus, whose fresh food department is reminiscent of a traditional Mexican market--the produce section alone features several varieties of peppers. Other fresh offerings include Aguas Frescas, Mexican baked goods, guacamole prepared on-premise and the Sabores Kitchen, a takeout concept featuring popular dishes from home.

A second retailer, Goodwill, educated participants about the many challenges faced by low income consumers. Using proceeds from its stores, Goodwill’s Good Careers Academy trains people for jobs ranging from nurse’s aide to truck driver. The company said 80 percent of graduates get jobs. A referral program provides students with help paying rent and utilities, childcare, transportation and other issues that company executives label “employment barriers.” Sixty-three percent of people coming into the career centers are Hispanic.

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