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Vallarta, Seafood City Join Cultural Immersion Tour

Vallarta Supermarkets and Seafood City will participate in the Cultural Immersion Tour at the Multicultural Retail 360 Summit, hosted by Progressive Grocer parent Stagnito Business Information + Edgell Communications. They join Vine Ripe and Northgate Gonzalez Markets on the hands-on educational tour, which takes place Aug. 24, marking the beginning of the three-day summit in San Diego.

Seafood City caters to the San Diego area’s Filipino population, which is one of the largest in the United States. Vallarta (along with Northgate) is considered a benchmark in ethnic retailing. The Vallarta and Seafood City locations the tour will visit are both in National City, Calif.

Fifty-six percent of shoppers who frequent the National City Vallarta location are Latino. What makes this store unique, however, is that 9 percent are African-American, a demographic that this nimble retailer has not failed to notice. The store opened in 2011.

In 1985, Vallarta was founded  as a small meat store in Van Nuys, Calif., by Enrique Gonzalez, an immigrant from Jalostotitlan, Jalisco, Mexico. He was later joined by his four brothers, son and a nephew.  Vallarta grew to include more locations throughout the San Fernando Valley. In 2011, Vallarta opened stores in National City, as well as in Anaheim and Santa Maria. Today, there are 48 stores. Later this year, they will be joined by a new location, the third in the Fresno market.

While it's not the lowest-priced retailer, Vallarta is known for its hands-on customer service. The motto in its full-service butcher shop is "Corte al gusto" (cut to your preference). The seafood department is well known for its fish ceviche, shrimp ceviche, imitation crab ceviche, seafood mix ceviche and "camarones ahogados." All ceviches are made daily on site. There are also shrimp from Mexico and Ecuador, salmon from Chile, and red snapper from Brazil.

Two unique parts of Vallarta’s product mix are its liquor and “La Isla” departments. The spirits section has one of the largest tequila selections in the United States. The department also offers wide assortments of whiskey, cognac, brandy, vodka and rum. Vallarta’s distributors specialize in spirits from Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and other parts of the world.

La Isla (“The Island”) features juices made fresh on the spot along with “aguas frescas.” Both are made with all-natural ingredients. Other items in La Isla include fruit and vegetable smoothies, snow cones, iced coffee, fruit cocktails and salads. Champurrado, cafe de olla and cappuccino are among hot-beverage offerings.

There are also comprehensive produce and tortilla departments, along with an in-store bakery, deli and cremería. Private label merchandise is offered in several categories, including bread, tortillas, chips, rice and tostadas.

Seafood City Supermarket serves the San Diego area’s huge Filipino population. San Diego County, along with Los Angeles, has one of the state’s largest Filipino populations. According to the Migration Policy Institute, 45 percent of all Filipino immigrants in the United States live in California, followed by Hawaii (just 6 percent), then New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Texas (1 percent for all four states combined).

The first wave of Filipinos arrived in the United States in the 1960s. For years, they would search all types of Asian stores for products that were similar to what they knew from home. Then in 1989, the first Seafood City Supermarket opened in National City. For the first time, there was an Asian grocery store where Filipino-Americans could find exactly what they wanted, according to the retailer. Today, Seafood City has stores in California, Nevada, Washington and Hawaii. Soon it will enter Chicago and Canada.

Filipino cuisine, like Filipinos themselves, reflects a mix of several cultures. Dishes feature recipes, ingredients and cooking styles that trace their roots to Malay, Chinese and Spanish cultures, among many others. This makes Filipino cuisine unique.

Seafood City carries the products necessary to create these unique dishes. In addition to departments offering fresh meat, fish, produce and a bakery, it has a health and beauty care section devoted to this demographic, along with two popular Filipino quick-service restaurants, Chowking and Jollibee. Shipping and remittance services are provided as well.

The visit to Vine Ripe Farmer’s Market, in La Mesa, Calif., marks the first time a Middle Eastern supermarket has participated in the tour. This is notable, since California is home to more than 715,000 Arab-Americans, who reside in large communities in Alameda, Fresno, Imperial, Kern, Orange, San Bernardino and San Diego.

About 500,000 Iranian-Americans live in Southern California, in such communities as Beverly Hills, Orange County, San Diego, the Palm Springs area and the San Joaquin Valley. San Diego also has one of the largest populations of Chaldean immigrants in the United States.

Vine Ripe’s Middle Eastern and Mediterranean offerings include grocery and deli products, organic produce, Halal foods and a selection of staple American products.

The dairy department includes favorites like paneer, sweet cheese, imported cheese, labne, kefir and a number of yogurt drinks. Also tempting the palate are a wide assortment of Turkish baked goods and a salad bar offering everyday items along with favorites like tabbouleh, tzatziki, baba ghanoush, hummus and dolma.

Recently, Vine Ripe added a made-to-order fresh juice bar. This will soon be joined by a wine room.

Northgate Gonzalez Markets was founded in Anaheim, Calif., in January 1980 by a large immigrant family. Targeting consumers of all assimilation levels, offerings include bulk and packaged produce; on-site, hand-made tortillas; a cut-to-order butcher; and an on-site bakery. Northgate, which is participating in the tour for the second consecutive year, will showcase one of its larger-format San Diego locations.

“Northgate Gonzalez Market looks forward to another year of participating in the Multicultural Retail 360 Show,” said Mike Hendry, Northgate’s EVP of marketing and merchandising. “In this larger-format store, you will find everything from fresh, authentically prepared foods from Mexico and Latin America to one of the widest varieties of fresh meat and seafood in the county. Bring your wallet, as you’ll be sure to find a new salsa or tequila – we offer one of the widest selections in Southern California.”

Northgate also offers financial and other services, including check cashing, bill payment and personal loans. Many customers don't have bank accounts. On the health-and-wellness front, its Viva la Salud (“Living Healthy”) initiative provides bilingual product labels detailing nutritional benefits. Easy-to-read graphics make labels more understandable to shoppers with low English comprehension and/or limited formal education.

The tour involves in-person visits via chartered bus to the stores. While the Multicultural Retail 360 Summit itself provides case studies, valuable data and insights from leading companies and executives, this guided Cultural Immersion Tour allows guests to experience ethnic neighborhoods, retailers and customers on a firsthand basis. In addition to showcasing unique product selections, it exposes visitors to shopping habits, consumer expectations, socioeconomic factors and merchandising strategies inherent to particular cultures.

Please note that there's a separate registration fee for the Cultural Immersion Tour. You may register for the tour at the same time that you register for the conference at

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