Around the World in Three Days at MR360 Summit


SAN DIEGO — This year’s Multicultural Retail 360 Summit canvassed the globe as attendees gleaned knowledge on everything from Kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), to Iranian pastries, to the growing influence of Hispanic millennials and Asian immigrants.

The conference, in its 12th year and hosted by prominent business media brands Convenience Store News and Progressive Grocer, took place Aug. 24-26 at the Hilton Bay Front in San Diego.

Day 1 began with the annual Cultural Immersion Tour. Attendees visited three Hispanic-influenced stores and, for the first time, toured retailers that target Middle Eastern and Filipino shoppers in the San Diego area. This was followed by speaker presentations, including one by entertainer John Leguizamo.

“The best retailers know their customers. They know the data, but it never replaces ‘empirical observation,’” noted Armando Martin, president of advertising agency XL Edge, who has assisted with the Cultural Immersion Tour for many years. “Mingling with customers provides exponentially more information than sitting behind the desk pouring over spreadsheets. In Spanish, we call this mingling ‘convivir.’”

The tour’s goal is to immerse MR360 Summit attendees in other cultures by bringing them face-to-face with traditions, products and people.

Visiting Island Pacific (Filipino) and Vine Ripe (Middle Eastern) stores “provided tremendous opportunities to see … vastly different customers than the Hispanic format stores visited in the past,” Martin added. “They transformed our tour. From the moment we entered, we were taken to another time and place.”

A highlight of the tour was a light lunch provided by Island Pacific featuring traditional Filipino BBQ chicken, pork and tilapia. In the store, extensive seafood offerings include Pompano, rabbit fish and moon fish. The produce assortment contains items like bitter lemon leaves, taro leaves and dry coconut.

Many customers are middle-income women aged 30-plus. “They have spending power,” explained Susan delos Santos, marketing director for Island Pacific. “But they have no access to these delicacies, or they’re very expensive elsewhere.” Other Island Pacific stores serve different Asian groups.

Vine Ripe’s largely Russian and Middle Eastern clientele can partake of fresh red and yellow dates, halal meats, and “homemade” private label tuzaki sauce, Dollma, hummus and other favorites. Produce includes fresh fava beans, daikon, butter melon and Thai coconut. The cheese section offers Shanklish cheese, puck cream, labini balls and habulsi cheese.

“You can’t find these products elsewhere,” echoed Ginny Jacobson, Vine Ripe’s marketing coordinator.

This year’s tour also returned to its Hispanic roots with visits to Vallarta and Northgate Gonzalez Markets. These traditional Spanish chains feature myriad varieties of dried and fresh peppers, bulk nuts, and legumes and spices by the bag. Complementing Mexican beer assortments are IPAs, which are popular among assimilated millennials.

Their food courts sell tortillas that are, literally, made from scratch. At Vallarta, this starts with a large-batch processor that mixes and grinds raw corn into flour. Tortillas are sold hot.

Northgate’s food court includes a dozen types of prepared chicken, guisados and aguas frescas. MR360 Summit attendees sampled homemade guacamole, chorizo, chicken and pork carnitas, and salsa made with hatch chilies.

A visit to a Walgreens drugstore in a heavily Hispanic neighborhood provided a brief break from groceries. As in all the featured tour locations, the pharmacy here is staffed with people who speak the local language — in this case, Spanish. Medication labels are in the shoppers’ language as well.

“Could you imagine the frustration to explain your health concerns in a language you couldn’t understand?” said Martin. “Good job Walgreens!”

This particular Walgreens store also offers nationally branded health and beauty care items popular among Latinos, alongside beauty products from Mexico merchandised in the standard set. Other unique products include Spanish greeting cards, candy, religious items and shelf-stable food. Except for beans, food is merchandised alongside non-Hispanic fare.


The Cultural Immersion Tour was followed by three opening-day speaker presentations.

In the opening session, two partners from A.T. Kearney — Andres Mendoza Peña, partner, strategy, marketing and sales practice; and Carlos Cruz, partner, consumer and retail practice — presented the findings of a new study titled “America@250.”

In partnership with the Wall Street Journal, the multiyear project combines data with input from government officials to explore how politics and demographics could impact society — and retailers — during the next decade. Their presentation outlined four potential economic scenarios (some positive, some negative) and discussed how retailers should respond.

This was followed by a Jewel-Osco/Albertsons panel that discussed how the retailer uses advertising, in-store events, recipes, food sampling and other tools to reach African-Americans, Kosher Jews, Hispanics and Polish shoppers. Store events have included strolling mariachi bands and salsa dancing. The company’s “Taste of…” Italy, Poland, Kosher etc., promotions are particularly popular. Some of these revolve around Black History and Hispanic Heritage months.

“Events are year-round,” said Jim Seidler, category manager, ethnic and specialty foods, Jewel-Osco. “We do whatever we can to add variety. We want customers to recognize that we recognize them.”

The company uses more than 30 minority-owned suppliers, including FLO Wines, whose founder and president Marcus Johnson was on hand to explain his strategy. Johnson, also a pianist, later entertained MR360 Summit cocktail party guests.

Rabbi Yakov Yarmove, corporate lead for kosher foods for Albertsons, discussed Jewish demographics, including kosher law and various sects. Ten percent of Jews (600,000) are Hasidic/Orthodox and follow kosher traditions according to biblical lore. While small in numbers, affluent members cluster in close communities.

“It’s about following the biblical law of how to slaughter animals and which parts you can and cannot eat,” said Yarmove, who designs the retailer’s kosher food and marketing programs, including the Kosher Destination Store concept in leading Jewish markets.

“It also involves checking the animal’s health. We keep our souls healthy by eating right; eating non-kosher food is spiritual cyanide. Consumers will travel long distances to reach kosher food.”

Day 1 of the conference concluded with a few jokes from Columbian-born actor Leguizamo.

“We were the kind of people Donald Trump wants to keep out of the U.S.,” he said in describing how he arrived here as a child with his family. Being the only Hispanic family in the “white” neighborhood of Jackson Heights, Queens, N.Y., Leguizamo recalled how he was often picked on by other children. Acting and comedy became his escape.

He provided some interesting information about U.S. Hispanics. For one, they are the only ethnic group to fight in every war the United States has been in. Twenty thousand fought in the Civil War alone, representing both the Union and Confederacy.

Leguizamo also pointed to the group’s growing importance. “Latinos will change the profile of the U.S. over the next four years.” And he was not just talking numbers: “We’re brand loyal and spend beyond our means — we’re a retailer’s dream.” 

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