PictureStephen Chavez
By MaryBeth Matzek
MAA Editor
MADISON, Wis.  –  Food plays a central role in the lives of Latinos and as their population increases, it is vital U.S. producers understand their spending habits to take advantage of their growing economic power.
“Hispanics are an economic engine. One out of every four babies born in the United States right now is Latino descent,” said Jose Castro, manager of insights and strategy for Univision Communications Inc. “That right there tells you a lot about their growth.”
Add to that the power of Latino wallets – they spend more on groceries than any other groups, according to Nielson – and it is clear why dairy producers and industry affiliates were eager to listen to a panel discussion on the growing influence on U.S. food and agriculture at Dairy Strong 2017: The Journey Forward, which held was held at the Monona Terrace Community & Convention Center on Jan. 18-19.

“Food is very social for Latinos,” said Stephen Chavez, the publisher and founder of the LatinoFoodie blog. “Whole families go shopping together and you have more generations under one roof so everything involving the shopping, preparation and eating, of course, involves everyone. Plus, we love our dairy.”
According to Nielson, Hispanics spent $6 billion on dairy products in 2016. “When I cook, I use full-fat dairy products. We’re not using soy or almond milk, give us the real thing,” Chavez said.
Javier Zamora, the owner of JSM Organics in California, said Latinos are a diverse group and enjoy a variety of products. “The market opportunities are endless,” he said, adding he grows strawberries and a unique mix of flowers and vegetables. “And it’s not just Latinos. I grow marigolds that Indians like to use in their cooking. It’s all about understanding your market.”
Producers looking to meet the Latino demand need to understand more about their culture and realize that food, soccer and music are all important components, Chavez said.  “For Latinos, your food is a sign of love,” he said. “Marketers and farmers need to see that and respond.”
Many Latinos, for example, enjoy a mid-afternoon snack or mini-meal called the merienda. “That’s important to this population,” Castro said.
“And many include dairy products as part of their merienda,” Chavez said.
Castro said Univision has gathered a lot of data regarding Latinos as a way to help producers and marketers better understand the market, including that younger people feel at home in both Latino and American worlds. “They speak English and Spanish. They like traditional food, but they also love cheeseburgers and fries,” he said.
Chavez, who is approached by large food manufacturers to develop recipes they can post online as part of their marketing strategy, said some food manufacturers understand the Latino influence on the U.S. food market. For example, 10 years ago most Americans did not know what a jicama is, but what was once considered a Latino vegetable has grown in popularity across the board with shoppers and vegetable garden owners.
“Some manufacturers asked to put together some Latino-inspired Super Bowl recipes, but it’s just not for the Latinos,” he said. “They know that a lot of other consumers are going to be tapping into them, too. There’s no reason why a non-Latino can’t get into and enjoy what’s considered a traditional Mexican dish.”
While more consumers want organic products, Zamora said there is plenty of room in the market for conventionally grown produce. 
“We couldn’t grow enough organics to satisfy the need. There’s enough room in the market for all kinds of food providers,” he said.
 


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