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October 10, 2011

Every week brings new evidence of the changing face of America. New census data constantly reveals the growing and changing ethnic mix of the nation, mainly in the form of the burgeoning Hispanic and Asian populations. Increasingly we see reports of major cities that no longer have a majority group population and similar shifts in the statewide populations in California and Texas.

Those changes, like any shift among consumers, bring new challenges for retailers looking to keep their stores relevant to local communities. Grow With America: Best Practices in Ethnic Marketing and Merchandising, http://www.cokesolutions.com/BusinessSolutions/Studies/Grow_With_America_Ethnic_Marketing_Study_2002.pdf a 2002 study from the Coca‑Cola Retailing Research Council, outlines many of the key steps companies must take to find success in this new market. The six critical steps outlined in the study bear careful consideration.

1. Retailers must learn about their ethnic customers to serve them better. This includes understanding key product choices that these new consumers desire and the need to find suppliers for these types of products. Plus retailers must determine how they want to serve the ethnic consumer and start by learning about the group’s food consumption profiles.

2. Define an ethnic merchandising look and organize to execute it. Retailers need to demonstrate commitment to customers through product positioning must organize to support the strategy and must understand how to adapt category management skills to these new demands.

3. Tailor offerings to appeal to target customers by understanding that it ‘s important to carry key ethnic brands in certain categories to have marketing relevance. This again requires commitment in the store and through the supply chain.

4. Establish relationships with the community by using marketing in the correct languages and demonstrating sensitivity to these shoppers’ needs. Part of this falls on store management and part on company management. Plus, buyers need to find and source products from local minority suppliers to build relations.

5. Recruit diverse staff members to reflect the ethnic and racial make up of the local population. This requires a new philosophy to retain these workers and to build the community relationships necessary for success among shoppers and workers.

6. And as with any strategy, build a marketing plan that communicates value at every level. Success here demands that plans are always held to a standard of relevance to all parties involved. While so many of these points are standard building blocks of success for any business, the nuance of the ethnic market make them more complex than ever. Grow With America is must reading for retailers in all markets where changing population trends are changing the face of shoppers, cooking and eating.

And as census data reminds us, those markets are everywhere.

Michael Sansolo
Research Director
Coca‑Cola Retailing Research Council of North America