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    What Are Hispanics Eating? Unilever Finds Out

    Like many other manufacturers-and retailers, too, for that matter-Unilever wants to know how to best serve the ever-growing Hispanic community. That's why the company recently surveyed Latino consumers in the United States about what they are eating.

    Like many other manufacturers-and retailers, too, for that matter-Unilever wants to know how to best serve the ever-growing Hispanic community. That's why the company recently surveyed Latino consumers in the United States about what they are eating.

    "Unilever wanted to gain better insights into the food, cooking, and shopping preferences of its Hispanic consumers," says Joseph Vizcarra, integrated marketing manager-multicultural for Unilever U.S. "We also wanted to listen to them and understand what they're looking for from a meal preparation perspective. This information will be useful in helping to develop products, recipes, and programs that will meet their needs."

    Between February and April, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.-based Unilever picked the brains and palates of a nationally representative sample of nearly 20,000, reaching them via the Internet, a People en Español mail-in survey, and in-store forms at participating retailers. The project is part of a larger evolving program, "Desafío del Sabor" (Flavor Challenge), that Unilever started in January 2006 in partnership with retailers across the country, as a way to better connect with Hispanics via local and interactive activities. Since then, the initiative has grown "to an even larger scale, with activities that involve the entire family," says Vizcarra.

    What did Unilever learn? Well, it's no surprise that just over 33 percent of Hispanic consumers said rice is the ingredient they buy the most at the supermarket, followed closely by tomatoes (a little less than 33 percent), with beans (18 percent) and garlic (16 percent) taking up the rear.

    When asked which ingredient they believe imparts that special Latin flavor, respondents chose cilantro over garlic, onion, and peppers.

    Rice is, of course, the staple of the Hispanic diet, used in main dishes, appetizers, and desserts, and cilantro, along with garlic, is used in a variety of Latin dishes and thus appeals to most Hispanics. Peppers and spicy flavors, however, are not as widely accepted among all Latinos.

    The survey yielded a few surprises, too, according to Unilever. For one thing, many Hispanic kids apparently prefer chicken nuggets, and even spaghetti and meatballs, over tacos when they get hungry at lunchtime. This demonstrates acculturation in action, as the tastes of children of first- and second-generation Hispanics more closely resemble those of non-Hispanic, U.S.-born children.

    When cuisine tastes stray from the traditional Latino side, 72 percent of Hispanic consumers said their families choose Italian cuisine over Asian (preferred by 17 percent), French (6 percent), and Greek (5 percent).

    "These types of insights are invaluable when developing new products and programs for our Hispanic consumers," observes Vizcarra. Adding that this consumer intelligence will continue to feed Unilever's strategies "as an ongoing marketing tool for this year's Hispanic activities."

    The Desafío del Sabor program, meanwhile, extends well beyond the survey. "This year Unilever took a different approach," says Vizcarra. "We first asked Latino shoppers across the country how they like to cook and eat. Now we're inviting Latino families to participate in family Flavor Challenge events at top grocery retailers across the country.

    "The Flavor Challenges will provide Hispanic families the chance to compete together as a team against other families, by answering questions about cooking and food. We'll also be extending this through multiple touch points, including in-store, grass-roots festivals, and online."

    Unilever will hold more than 15 Desafío del Sabor events in markets such as Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, and Phoenix between June and August, in addition to the program's nearly 1,500 in-store demos also occurring this year.

    In-store event contestants can receive free brand recipe samples, Desafío del Sabor premiums, and gift cards valued at up to $100 from participating retailers to help with their shopping needs.

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