Cultural Ties Are the Root to Hispanic Connection

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Cultural Ties Are the Root to Hispanic Connection

By Melissa Kress, Convenience Store News - 08/17/2012

LOS ANGELES -- To adapt and overcome are more than words to J.R. Martinez, keynote speaker at the Hispanic Retail 360 Summit that wraps up today in Los Angeles.

Known to television audiences across the country, Martinez is an actor who appeared on "All My Children," and the season 13 winner of "Dancing with the Stars." He is also a retired soldier who suffered serious injuries in Iraq and underwent 33 surgeries in more than two years.

But more than all those things, he is a Latino. He was born in Louisiana and raised in Arkansas before moving to Georgia the summer before his senior year in high school. His mother -- who moved to Louisiana from El Salvador in search of the American dream -- was by his side down every road he traveled.

"Anything I am today comes from the roots instilled in me by my culture and by my mother," Martinez said. "I was born in this country, I was raised in this country, but it is very important to me not to forget my roots."

Staying true to their roots is a common theme among the Hispanic market. As Javier Farfan, senior director of cultural branding at PepsiCo, explained, people want to connect to the future without losing their past.

"My department is called cultural branding, not multicultural marketing," he said. "Multicultural marginalizes multicultural consumers rather than integrating multicultural at the core."

Connecting to those roots, though, is different for each retailer. Carlos Torres, chief operating officer of Supermercados El Rancho, has it a little easier than most. The grocery retailer concentrates on one niche, the Mexican consumer -- primarily first and second generation, he said.

It is a different story for Rafael Cueller, president and CEO of Cuellar LLC dba ShopRite, a part of Wakefern Food Corp. The grocer's New Jersey store caters to several different ethnicities, meaning he and his team need to find a way to meet all the customers' needs.

"The market I operate in is complex. We are not just dealing with one or two ethnicities or even one or two Hispanic ethnicities," he explained, adding his customers comprise 16 different Hispanic ethnicities and approximately nine other ethnicities. "Marketing to them is not the easiest thing to do."

Regardless of background, a retailer needs to invest in getting to know the customers and learn from them, according to Ricky Castro, director of ethnic marketing and merchandising strategies at Save-A-Lot Food Stores.