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The African-American Shopper

Since the 2000 census, the story on everyone's minds has been the rising Hispanic population, now surpassing African-Americans as the largest minority group. Despite coming in second in terms of total minority population, African-Americans as consumers are increasing in their buying influence and buying power — making the segment a must-have niche to the overall retail industry, including convenience stores.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the African-American population is projected to increase about 71 percent by 2050, from 35.8 million to 61.4 million. That number would raise the African-American segment of the country's total population from 12.7 percent to 14.6 percent. While not growing as quickly as the Hispanic segment, that's still a huge market for retailers to serve.

The segment is also growing in its buying influence, as income levels for the black population continue to rise. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 27 percent of African-American married-couple families had incomes of $75,000 or more in 2001, and 31.4 percent of adult individuals now earn in excess of $50,000.

"The story in the African-American market is brand, brand, brand, brand," said Cathy Von Fange, partner for Chapel Hill, N.C.-based market research firm Yankelovich, which put out the 2003 Yankelovich Multicultural Marketing Study in collaboration with Cheskin and Images USA. "Brands to African-Americans are used two different ways, generally. The first way is to be something of a badge or symbol — this is a brand that helps me feel better about myself, it shows others that I've made it and it gives me a feeling of comfort and confidence. Basically, it says 'look at me.' The second reason they buy a brand is because it simplifies things and makes them more assured there will be quality and service behind a brand name."

Von Fange points out that many consumer packaged goods companies have stepped forward to reach directly to the African-American population in their advertising and marketing campaigns. Anheuser-Busch was an example, she said, of a company that was marketing to African-Americans in a way that is relevant. Procter & Gamble is another major manufacturer that has begun including African-American-targeted ads in its mainstream campaigns. Tobacco and malt liquor companies are others that have long included African-American consumers in their target markets. "Everyone is absolutely sure that African-Americans buy by brand, and they all want to be the brand that African-Americans buy," Von Fange said.

In the convenience store, the No. 1 goal is to make sure the African-American shopper is comfortable walking inside and feels invited to shop there. "They like to know they are welcome there," Von Fange said. "Having African-American signage, having African-American advertising (in point of sale items) and employing African-Americans as clerks can all be very important to have those shoppers feel like they are welcome in store."
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