In 1999 Luis Fitch and Carolina Ornelas launched UNO Branding of Minneapolis to address the growing demand for Hispanic/bicultural branding. As childhood friends from Tijuana, Mexico, they grew up integrating the best of both Mexico and the U.S. cultures. They have used their knowledge on behalf of such clients as General Mills, Macys, MTV and Frito Lay. Packaging Strategies talked to Fitch about the role packaging plays in selling to the Hispanic market.
Is there really something called the Hispanic market?
Yes, but it is fragmented. Florida is Cuban, the East Coast is Puerto Rican, California is Mexican and so on. There are packaging strategies that can translate across all of them—such as Spanish language in general– but there are also many differences. At UNO, we have a process we call filtros—filters. We ask clients a number of questions so we can determine the demographics. For instance, Hispanics in Florida are generally of Cuban descent. California is Mexican and the East Coast is Puerto Rican. Products can transcend the 25 different cultures. It’s not the same for people from Argentina or Puerto Rico or Peru. There are 25 different SKUs (stock keeping units) for beans. Each Latin country has refried beans as part of their diet but each is cooked differently. In cases like this, you can do the “big picture” on the package but differentiation can be better accomplished using social media and other methods.
Is packaging more or less important to attracting Hispanic consumers?
In the U.S. Hispanic market, it’s important in establishing a brand. It is less important for those brands familiar in someone’s country of origin because they are accustomed to seeing them on the shelf. For instance, Colgate toothpaste has been in Mexican stores for more than 60 years. So, when some people come here they think it’s a brand from Mexico. In cases like Colgate, bilingual language on the package is pretty much all that is needed. First or second generations will use it because their parents used it and both languages they are familiar with are represented. Language is one of the first things we understand. There are also visual clues. Later generations might be familiar with the packaging even if they don’t speak the language. It’s pretty common. Something might look French —however that is achieved— but come from Columbus, OH. I don’t think language is used effectively enough in the U.S. when marketing to Hispanics. In Canada there are laws requiring bilingual labels and text on packaging but the French-speaking portion of the population is relatively small. In England, you’ll find packages carrying messages in four languages. But in the U.S., even given the growth of the Hispanic population, you only see it when that group is being targeted directly. In part this lack of bilingual packaging is due to the fact marketing and design people don’t like it because it clutters things up.
How important is packaging to Hispanic consumers when making purchasing choices?
Some things are universal: If the typical soccer mom likes something because it makes her life easier, then a Hispanic soccer mom will as well. There are differences, though. Fresh is the biggest thing, so labels containing information about expiration dates and such are important. Another big thing with Hispanic moms is the tradition of bringing the family together around the table to eat traditional foods. This is something that even spans generations. But the dishes grandma cooked take too long to make from scratch for today’s moms. So, products packaged as semi-prepared or packaged fresh save time but also allow the continuation of the tradition in an updated way.
And they don’t want to go too heavy with the microwave, either. Many moms feel guilty they can’t cook from scratch so they want to at least put some effort into the meal. That is unlikely to change. Some marketing people say they will wait for Latinos to be acculturated before they target the market. But Latinos don’t want to lose their culture. Even younger generations that prefer English still are exposed to Spanish in the family. And food remains a big part of their tradition. So, even if they never visit their parent’s country of origin, the traditions continue.
Can packaging span cultures to attract a broader range of consumers?
People say they want to target a specific market. We say target everyone but make it look authentic. For example, identify the juices that sell best in the Hispanic market. You’ll find they are packaged in ways that are ethnic enough for the Latino market but
also universal enough for the general market – using bilingual language at least. That way they sell much more of the product. We’ve seen it happen. Because of travel and the media, there is much greater awareness of Mexican food here and it has become a part of American culture. Products don’t necessarily have to come from Mexico to satisfy consumers, but they do have to be authentic. Some studies show salsa has surpassed ketchup as a condiment in the U.S. One of the most popular brands is Old El Paso, which is made here by General Mills.
You can also look at the huge growth of tequila sales in the U.S. People are more educated about it in the past and understand what makes a quality tequila. Therefore, a package can be designed to carry the message of quality. Insects, such as crickets, are part of authentic Mexican cuisine in some parts of the country. We found young people in Arizona wanted to munch on cooked crickets while drinking tequila for a more authentic experience. However, they can’t be imported so there’s someone in Arizona raising them for that purpose. The reverse is also true. Go to a store in Mexico and you’ll see the packaging is extremely modern, clean and corporate but the language is in Spanish. Pepsi is sold in the same packages as here, but carrying Spanish language messages.