Ethnic Groups Unswayed By Low Carb Food Trends

Apr 22, 2004

By Terry Soto

Atkins and other low-carbohydrate diets are big news. Mainstream consumers are shunning potatoes, pasta, bread and other high carb foods, while manufacturers and restaurants are seizing the opportunity by offering items such as low carb pizza and ice cream, and bunless burgers. However, this trend is still a tough sell among immigrant ethnic groups for whom high carbohydrate foods — rice, bread, potatoes, corn, beans and pasta — still represent important dietary food pillars.

Because ethnic communities typically originate from agrarian societies where proteins like beef, chicken and seafood are often cost prohibitive, these food pillars are woven tightly into their food cultural fiber. In countries of origin, the traditional diet is centered on legumes, vegetables, fruits, roots and grains.

This, of course, represents significant opportunities for high carbohydrate categories that have experienced sales declines at the supermarket due to the Atkins craze.

To illustrate, consider a recent study undertaken by the U.S. Potato Board in 2003, which discovered that due to its “food pillar” status, Hispanics are very “involved” with potatoes. In spite of “rumored” dietary downsides, they are unlikely to be deterred from continuing to consume potatoes in large quantities. And, unless they are taking precautions for a health condition based doctor’s orders, they are minimally concerned with carbohydrates, sugar or claims of potatoes being fattening.

Unlike the Mainstream Market, Hispanics are very positive and very serious about potatoes’ nutritional value, and they are pleased that their kids like potatoes so much because, for many, it’s the only “vegetable” they willingly eat.

Hispanics indicate that potatoes represent a foundation in their diets and, as such, must always be on hand. The study indicates that at least four potatoes dishes are served weekly. Versatility of preparation choices and meal occasion are also attractive so potatoes are a mainstay with households citing consumption of one-to-two 10 lb bags per week.

Budgetary concerns also come into play, especially when feeding large families. Choosing high yield foods such as beans, rice, tortillas, bread and potatoes to grow portions becomes increasingly important to fill up the family. Meats and proteins, while served much more often in the U.S. where it is more affordable, are typically served in somewhat smaller proportions.

Moderator’s Comment: What is the implication for supermarket retailers, growers and manufacturers? Do ethnic markets
represent a significant opportunity for declining categories that have suffered in the wake of the Atkins juggernaut?

Before the low-carb wave hits the shores of the multicultural marketplace, a defensive stand must be taken to reinforce and preserve this traditional consumption
behavior. The industry must leverage Hispanics’ positive attitudes about these staples’ nutritional value so that their consumption attitudes do not evolve towards a Mainstream

One important way to reinforce behavior is to communicate the various reasons why these foods continue to be good for the whole family. Focusing on nutritional
value will give these consumers the most important reason for continuing their current consumption patterns. This positioning will elevate potatoes, corn, beans, rice and other
high carbohydrate ethnic dietary pillars to a higher plane beyond economics or taste drivers.

Additionally, because these ethnic markets deserve a great deal of consideration, the industry must work to ensure that they are addressed in their language
of comfort. It must communicate through Bilingual packaging that delivers the information ethnic groups want and appreciate, including: preparation tips, nutritional values, and
education about specific food attributes.

The industry should identify ethnic markets and stores through which various merchandising models can be tested — packaging; merchandising; pricing; language;
advertising and promotions — so they can capitalize on and profit from these diverse yet stable food consumption patterns.

Terry Soto – Moderator

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