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Learning the language

Targeting the Hispanic market means getting comfortable with Spanish

Restaurant operators looking to connect with Hispanics should start brushing up on their Spanish. 

While there are many English-speaking Hispanics who have become Americanized, the majority of Hispanics in the United States are less acculturated and are most comfortable speaking Spanish, say officials with market research firm The NPD Group. 

In addition, with more than 45 million Hispanics in the United States and the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasting the ethnic group to account for 30 percent of the population by 2050, Hispanics are now the fastest-growing segment of the population.

“There’s this whole other group that’s been kind of neglected,” said NPD analyst Bonnie Riggs of less acculturated Hispanics. “[The question is] how do you reach them?”

To help restaurant operators better position against the portion of the market that is less acculturated, NPD partnered with Garcia Research to create a test version of a new Hispanic market report. Conducted in July, the test is a combination of NPD CREST data, which does not currently include non-English-speaking Hispanics, and data from a Spanish-dominant online panel conducted by Garcia. NPD plans to launch an ongoing Hispanic market report in conjunction with Garcia next year.

“Typically, Hispanics are lumped into one large group,” said Mario X. Carrasco, vice president of online research for Garcia. “If you lump Hispanics together, you are missing an 
opportunity to speak to a consumer that over indexes in the restaurant industry.”

Indeed, Hispanics are big users of restaurants. According to NPD, in 2009, Hispanics made 217 per capita visits to restaurants compared with 209 for Caucasians and 206 for African Americans. Asians were the only demographic group to make more per capita restaurant visits than Hispanics. 

So what’s the best way to reach this important segment of the population? Through Spanish-speaking media, NPD found.

Of Spanish-speaking Hispanics surveyed, 26 percent said they view Spanish media only, 52 percent said they view Spanish and English media equally, and just 23 percent said they view English-only media. Meanwhile, 84 percent of predominantly English-speaking Hispanics said they mostly view English-only media. 

“If you are going to target them, you need to speak to them directly,” Riggs said. “If you are going to reach them, it’s going to have to be through Hispanic media.”

When dining out, Hispanics behave differently than non-Hispanics, but Spanish-speaking Hispanics and English-speaking Hispanics also behave differently, NPD found. 

Spanish-speaking Hispanics are much more likely to 
patronize restaurants for morning meals and snacks than English-speaking Hispanics and non-Hispanics, the data reveal. Among restaurant visits made by Spanish-speaking Hispanics, 31 percent occur at the morning meal and 22 percent occur at the afternoon snack daypart. Meanwhile, for both non-Hispanics and English-speaking Hispanics, 18 percent of visits occur at the morning meal and 15 percent occur at the afternoon snack. 

When visiting restaurants, Hispanics are much more likely to have children with them than non-Hispanics. The data reveal that more than half of restaurant visits from Spanish-dominant Hispanics and a third of visits from English-speaking Hispanics include parties with children. In contrast, just 29 percent of visits by non-Hispanics include parties with children.

“It’s very much about family,” Riggs said.

No matter when or with whom they dine, incentives are a big draw for Spanish-speaking Hispanics, NPD found. Spanish-speaking Hispanics take 
advantage of incentives with their restaurant meals approximately 29 percent of the time compared with just 25 percent of the time for non-Hispanics. In addition, Hispanics are particularly more likely to take advantage of daily specials.

While major chains such as McDonald’s and some savvy regional concepts like Dallas-based Pizza Patron have been targeting the Spanish-speaking Hispanic market with great success for some time, the majority of restaurant operators have yet to make a serious play for this fast-growing group. 

We spoke to Joe Alberetti, a partner at LatinoLandia, an 
Irvine, Calif.-based, full-service advertising and marketing firm that specializes in the Hispanic market, and Jessica Pantanini, chief operating officer of Bromley Communications and chair of the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies. They offer their take on the importance of the Hispanic market to restaurants and suggest ways operators can effectively reach this group.

Why would any operator ignore this group? Why should operators pay attention to Hispanics?

Alberetti: Hispanics in general have been very good to target for restaurant chains for a long time. Some have discovered the market and done well, and others have been slow on the uptake. Hispanics over index for food at home [and at restaurants]. One Hispanic walking through the door is worth one and a half non-Hispanics.

Pantanini: Franchisees know who’s coming in and out of the restaurant. Corporate — that’s where you may have a disconnect. The economy has put pressure on the internal team to do more with less; they default to making things easy. [Chains should] make sure there’s good dialogue between franchisees and corporate so there’s a good understanding of what’s happening in stores. The average Hispanic customer is a blue collar male, on-the-go, viewing food as fuel. That coupled with Hispanic households being larger and traveling in units — it 
impacts the average ticket. There’s an opportunity to be much more successful in the marketplace. It’s a very myopic view if you are not seriously wanting to be inclusive. For the long-term health of the 
organization, operators really need to think more broadly.

English or Spanish? 

Alberetti: Operators need to move more toward Spanish language usage. If not, you’re just doing Americanos-lite. It takes a little effort, but the payoff is worth it.

Pantanini: Spanish-dominant has always been a core driver of fast-food business. In general, when we talk about fast food, [ethnicity] is important. I think there’s this data pointing to this bilingual/bicultural group, [and operators then] think “We don’t need to talk to them in Spanish.” If operators aren’t talking to them — in both language and culture — that’s where I think a lot of marketers fail. 

How can operators connect with and gain brand loyalty from Hispanics?

Alberetti: Food and family time is extremely important to Hispanics, but that doesn’t mean you can’t lure them to restaurants. Value promotions to Hispanic families could be a winner. Hispanics are great “tryers” and great at word of mouth. If you’re hesitant or have a limited budget, start small. If you don’t do it, you are really missing out. This is a huge opportunity ... a rich, lucrative target. 

Pantanini: If marketers could just start off with who’s coming into the restaurant and what are the biggest challenges, I think they’d find a lot of easy solves. Start at the store level. Signage is an important thing. Some kind of a tool that allows consumers to order in a simple way. 

As brands begin to contemplate their in-store environments, [they should consider] that the general market likes the drive-thru, but Hispanics like to sit. Understand those little nuances that make a customer feel comfortable. Spend time with some store managers. They get it. They really know what’s 
going on. If you can get Hispanics in the store [and] deliver a good experience, they’re going to keep coming back.

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