California beef group focuses on Hispanic market

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Sep 20, 2004
by WLJ
What does a state's beef industry do when its promotion dollars limit it to approximately four cents a consumer, not enough to even cover the cost of a postage stamp? That was the question that came up during an interview with Bruce Berven, outgoing executive director of the California Beef Council (CBC), and Virginia Coelho, CBC board member, during the Hagata Ranch Centennial Celebration, September 4, at Susanville, CA.
Berven and Coelho both answered the funding question by saying it was decided several years ago to pinpoint a certain segment of the state's 35 million consumers and do the market research and develop the necessary partnerships within that segment.
Berven maintained that diversity is what makes the California beef market so unique.
"The nation's largest state population of some 35 million includes virtually every ethnic group imaginable, each with its own preferences, especially so with food," he said.
Overall, beef consumption has been good in California. However, several years ago, Berven and Coelho and other CBC members figured a lot more could be achieved by pinpointing their promotions to one market segment, the Hispanic market. The Hispanic population makes up a third of the state's overall population and is growing faster than any other ethnic group in the state.
Consequently, during the past few years, fully a third of the Council's some million-and-a-half yearly checkoff dollars, or $500-600,000 a year has been invested in the state's Hispanic market and the results have been very gratifying.
"First, it was vital to get in contact with retailers who really knew the Hispanic market, starting in the southern part of the state," said Coelho. "With their direction, CBC was able to develop promotions in partnership with these retailers that have been extremely effective."
She added that these retailers have supplied CBC with figures on beef movement through their stores, and that help has also come via including information in Spanish on the council's web site.
Both Berven and Coelho said that the Hispanic markets, especially carnicerias (meat markets), are eager to get any beef information, including recipes, in Spanish. Carniceria butchers have been supplied illustrated beef cuts this year, and Berven indicated that a majority of the information should be fully in place by September 1. Those illustrations have been printed in both Spanish and English.
Berven resigned from his CBC position earlier this year, and joined Harris Ranch Beef, the state's largest beef producer, as vice president of marketing.
Since Berven joined the Harris organization, he said he has made several trips throughout the state to visit Harris' customers. He told of a recent trip to the Los Angeles area where he visited both existing and prospective and how the CBC Hispanic beef promotions are working in that huge marketing area.
He said he visited several supermarket stores that mostly served Anglo customers and saw that during the morning hours customer attendance at those stores was rather light. However, when he visited one of the Northgate super markets at around 11:45 a.m, Berven said there was a long line of customers taking numbers to purchase beef. Most of those customers were Hispanic. Northgate is a grocery chain that operates l6 markets that mainly focus on the Hispanic trade.
"The Hispanic consumers, we've learned, have very different preferences from what the retail trade terms the Anglo market," said Berven. "They look for lots of thin meat items from lifter meat, flat meat and other less utilized cuts. The butchers in that market were behind a meat case some 160-feet long and the meat they were planning to sell that day were probably two feet deep!"
The Hispanic shopper is different from the others, according to Coelho, in that she will go to the store, if not daily, then frequently throughout the week. When she selects her meat, she will put it in a plastic bag and walk out of the store with it.
"Hispanic buyers prefer their meat to be fresh," said Coelho. "These buyers want to see their meat cut fresh and have their carniceria butchers do just that. It's so different from the other stores. And, this is one of the major challenges other grocery retailers have to learn if they are going to do business with the Hispanic market."
Berven also pointed out that "offal items," which the domestic beef industry has some difficulty in marketing, do have a home with the state's Hispanic consumers. Those products include hearts, livers, tongues, tripe and feet. In most cases, these products aren't widely accepted by the domestic market and aren't even considered merchandisable items in non-ethnic areas.
The BSE outbreak in this country a year ago last December caused USDA to ban human consumption of certain beet items like stomach intestines. Berven said the lack of these items in the domestic Hispanic market caused a lot of consumer outrage and their carniceria retailers told Berven they felt betrayed because they are not able to sell a product their consumers want.
"In fact," said Berven, "it's not just middle meats or even the end cuts, chucks and rounds—it's the entire animal. That makes California unique and why, as a beef council, it is so important for Virginia Coelho and all the others with the council or supporting it with their checkoff dollars to not ignore the Hispanic market, because as a group it is potentially the state's biggest beef customer!"
Berven concluded that with a budget less than four cents per consumer, you couldn't put together an advertising campaign large enough to have impact on such a wide range of consumers. Other commodities face the same challenge, he said.
CBC's Hispanic Carniceria marketing program has attracted national attention. Last March Coelho attended the National Cattlemen's Beef Association meeting in Fort Worth where she was invited to participate in a discussion on "beef raw material utilization strategies."
Her account on CBC's Hispanic experiences in the California market were very appropriate for that conference, she said.
Coelho noted, at the NCBA meeting, that her state's commodity groups, like California Beef Council, can take some of the credit in helping California agriculture achieve record incomes.
"Yearly agriculture income in the state," she said, " is around $27 billion, with more than $6.5 billion of that in yearly exports of food and agricultural commodities and beef plays a major part in those figures."
Coelho is married to Jim Coelho, owner of Coelho Ranches, Fremont, CA. — Dick Crow, WLJ Publisher Emeritus