Race matters when it comes to the types of groceries commonly purchased in the US, survey shows

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: iStock
Source: iStock

Related tags Hispanic and latino americans Nielsen Us

Manufacturers and retailers who understand the subtleties and different priorities of multicultural consumers in the US not only could see more sales, but could charge more for individual items, new research from Nielsen and Harris Poll suggests. 

An online survey of more than 2,000 US adults who speak English conducted by Harris Poll found 32% of Americans said they would pay more for brands that are sensitive to multicultural needs and nearly half of American adults said they would shop more often at retailers with more multicultural products.

But as Raul Corzo, president of the Hispanic cookware and housewares brand IMUSA, noted in a recent episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts podcast​, the biggest opportunity for brands hoping to reach multicultural shoppers is to understand the differences between the segments. And not just the difference between black, Asian and Hispanic shoppers, but the more granular differences among the people who make up each of these groups. So, for example, knowing if Hispanic shoppers have a Caribbean or Central American heritage that is influencing what they buy, cook and eat. 

Nielsen notes in a recent blog post that the “vast range of people, cultures and backgrounds”​ who are considered multicultural also is the “biggest and most obvious hurdle,”​ for retailers and manufacturers who likely want to have broad appeal while also tailoring their messages and offerings to different consumer groups.

Nonetheless, the market research firm identified a commonality in multicultural shoppers’ behavior that can act as a starting point for retailers and manufacturers hoping to woo more consumers. And that is their preference for fresh groceries.

The survey found multicultural shoppers spend 4% more on fresh groceries, including meat, bakery items and seafood, than white non-Hispanics, which translates to a difference of $60 million sales annually. Stepping back, the Harris Poll also revealed multicultural shoppers spend a total of about $40 billion on fresh products, which is about 21% of their annual food spend.

A closer look at spending on meat & seafood

Given the price of meat and seafood, it shouldn’t be surprising that these categories would capture a high percentage of consumers’ perishable dollars. But the survey did reveal that African-American, Asian and Hispanic consumers over-indexed in these categories compared to non-Hispanic whites.

While white shoppers under-indexed for meat at 97, blacks over-indexed at 116 for meat compared to 101 and 103 for Asians and Hispanics, according to the results. The difference between seafood is even more stark with Asians over-indexing at 258 compared to 166 for blacks, 106 for Hispanics and a mere 81 for whites.

Another notable difference revealed by the research is that Asian consumers, in general, prefer unbranded meat and seafood compared to other groups. Nielsen notes Asian shoppers spent only about 35% of their fresh seafood dollars on branded products compared to about 55% for white non-Hispanics and blacks.

Produce spending is divided between fruits and veggies

The survey also reveals that Asians and Hispanics over-index on produce purchases at 139 and 108 respectively compared to non-Hispanic whites at 97 and blacks at 94. But Asians and Hispanics are not buying the same type of produce.

Asian shoppers gravitate towards vegetables, green beans and sprouts, while Hispanic shoppers more often reach for fruit and blacks for go for produce beverages, including juices, according to Nielsen.

Deli divergence

The deli is a popular destination across ethnicities, with Asians, Hispanics and non-Hispanics all reach indexes of 100 or more, while blacks under-indexed at 92.

As with the meat and seafood segments though, the items to which each group is attracted varies. The report shows that white non-Hispanics buy a variety of deli items from across cultures, while Hispanics concentrate on culturally-related specialty cheeses and Asians buy specialty meat and cheese.

Recognizing that these observations are very general, Nielsen notes in the post that “these insights can serve as a jumping-off point for better understanding of multicultural consumers, but digging into shopping behaviors along geographical, generational and life stage within these groups is a critical next step for success.”

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