Hispanic grocery stores report that business is steadily improving over the past three years, as consumer confidence and spending continues to improve. Hispanic bakeries and other Hispanic businesses are playing a key role in the recovery.

A study recently released by Geoscape and supported by the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce reveals that Hispanic businesses are a fast-growing and critical part of the U.S. economy. During the past decade, the number of Hispanic-owned businesses doubled, growing from 1.6 million in 2002 to a projected 3.2 million in 2013. This year, the projected combined annual revenue of these businesses is over $468 billion, marking an increase of over $100 billion in the past six years. Hispanic business owners are 86% more likely to have household incomes between $100,000 and $149,000.

Well-established Hispanic grocery stores like El Rey Food Markets, which opened its first store in 1978, are bolstering their customer appeal with the use of eye-catching promotions and innovative product lines. “We run weekly specials through our local newspaper where flyers are distributed to individual households in the neighborhoods where our stores are located,” says Villarreal of El Rey Food Markets. “Our main festival of the year is Fiesta Mexican at the Summerfest grounds. We have a booth there of only our bakery products. Also, during the year, if there are different events in the morning, we are always asked to donate fresh bakery for the events.”

Wedding and quinceañera cakes also represent a growing part of El Rey’s business because, as Villarreal explains, of the convenience factor. “The people want to order from a reputable bakery and business that they are familiar with,” he says. “We can make simple one-tier cakes to cakes with up to five tiers and all kinds of other attractions on such as swans, water fountains and so on.  The people are able to pick their batter, their filling and their frosting, as well as the decoration, of course.”

The majority are customers who shop El Rey are of Hispanic origin, especially at their location on Cesar E. Chavez. “Our stores and products are what matters to all of our customers,” he says. “We still have to maintain our Hispanic heritage in our products, which is our calling card.  But we are also always adding products that might appeal to a cross-section of customers.”

Carlos Jacobo of Jacobo’s Grocery agrees that shoppers will come back to your store when they understand your passion for excellence. That is one of the most important lessons he’s learned in 37 years at Jacobo’s. “Being able to build a strong customer base takes time,” he says. “But when you have great pride in what you are doing, the customers really appreciate your products. That’s the reason the customers come back for more.”

Lunch is key day-part

Following a Hispanic cultural tradition US Hispanics have their largest meal of the day at lunch and consume more of these meals in the home than away-from-home. As a result, this large population group is influencing overall growth in the food categories they typically consume at lunch, reports The NPD Group, a leading global information company.

Seventy-three percent of U.S. Hispanics’ lunch meals are prepared and consumed in-home compared to 62 percent of non-Hispanics, according to NPD’s NET (National Eating Trends) Hispanic, which is a year-long study of US Hispanics’ eating behaviors. Spanish-language dominant Hispanics represent just 29 percent of total lunch traffic at restaurants compared to 34 percent for non-Hispanics, and total Hispanics represent 32 percent of foodservice lunch visits, according to NPD CREST Hispanic, which continually tracks how US Hispanics, by level of acculturation, use restaurants.

With lunch being the largest meal of the day for US Hispanics, there is a greater diversity of foods prepared by Hispanics compared to non-Hispanics. For example, while sandwiches are the top items for Hispanics, they are only present at 18 percent of afternoon meals (38 percent for non-Hispanics), finds NPD.

Sandwiches are very closely followed by soup and rice as top dishes during the afternoon meal. In fact, 13 percent of Hispanics’ afternoon meals include rice, compared to just one percent for non-Hispanics. There is also evidence that many of these rice dishes are either homemade or partly homemade, as they are often prepared using cooking oils and spices as opposed to heat-and-eat or pre-flavored offerings.

Rice is an example of US Hispanics’ rising influence on overall consumption trends. Rice is included in about 2 percent of in-home meals across the US population, according to NPD’s NET information. However, NET Hispanic shows rice consumption rises to 8 percent when looking specifically at the US Hispanic population.

“As Hispanics become an even greater influence on our culture and society, marketers would be wise to engage them in a manner that reflects their behaviors,” says Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst. “For example, rice is currently thought of as a dinnertime item, but perhaps it’s time to rethink this given the ways it is consumed among Hispanics.”

Hispanic flavors

Hispanic flavors are enhancing key product categories at Hispanic grocery stores, as they expand their bakery product offerings with flavors and toppings such as coconut flakes, mango, guava and pineapple fillings, or dulce de leche. Bakery shoppers are increasingly on the lookout for new twists on traditional bakery products. Mango cream donuts are one example of a donut that is gaining in popularity because of this trend. La Victoria in Stockton, CA, uses coconut flakes on one variety of its glazed donuts to add appeal for customers looking for different flavors.

Adding new flavors to donuts can be a simple way to appeal to a broader range of customers. Offering four or five standard flavors every day, as well as promoting a seasonal flavor of the month, can prove beneficial to increasing your overall donut sales. In many cases, donuts are being seen as more than a breakfast item. Creating a donut filled with dulce de leche, for example, can transform a traditional donut into an indulgent dessert item.

Cookies are another bakery item where flavors and toppings can add greatly to customer appeal. La Perla Tapatia in Chicago offers dozens of cookie flavors, including ginger, almond and strawberry. Cookies can be easily decorated to match seasonal occasions and holidays throughout the year. They can also be formed into creative shapes such as pretzels and lips, resembling a kiss.

Mil hojas, a traditional Hispanic pastry, is a popular dessert that is sold in individual slices at Alicia’s Bakery, one of Salt Lake City’s most popular Hispanic bakeries. Alicia Martinez, whose father Ezekiel owns the bakery, explains that mil hojas is quite popular because it consists of three flaky layers of pastry stacked with various fillings inside. The fillings can be fruit, chocolate or dulce de leche, depending on the recipe. Alicia Martinez says that she always preferred mil hojas over other types of cakes for her birthday cakes growing up.

Fondant cakes

Until recent years, rolled fondant cakes were not traditionally common in Hispanic bakeries, but that is changing – as tastes have evolved and Hispanic bakery shoppers have grown more acculturated. Gladys Rodriguez of Paco’s Bakery in Houston points out that Hispanic and non-Hispanic customers love their fondant cakes equally. “We have customers from everywhere,” she says. “It’s doesn’t matter where they are from, they know our cakes are good.”

One of three cake decorators at Paco’s Bakery, Rodriguez specializes in fondant cakes. Her designs are stunning: One recent cake featured a cowgirl theme for a girls’ second birthday that included a decorated bandana and a cowgirl hat on top. Another of her birthday cake designs incorporated strawberries and polka dots into the vibrant decorations.

“We use a lot of vibrant colors – hot pinks, neon and greens – for birthday cakes for girls,” Rodriguez says. “We did a first birthday baptism cake that was a three-tier cake with decorated cupcakes and cookies. They had planned out a whole table-scape.”

Current color trends in cake decorating designs include animal prints like zebra and giraffe, she says. And their cake designs keep getting bigger and bolder. “We do fondant cakes not only for birthdays, but for baby showers,” she says. “Baby shower cakes have grown to the point where they are almost as big as wedding cakes, because baby showers are so much bigger than they were a few years ago.”

Hispanic holidays
Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is celebrated Nov. 1-2 by many US Hispanics and in Mexico and Central America. Traditionally, it is a day to celebrate and honor one’s ancestors. Traditional Day of the Dead breads are formed into the shapes of skulls and bones. This occasion is based on the belief that there is interaction between the living world and the world of spirits. On the Día de los Muertos, the spirits of the dead are said to come back for family reunions. Many celebrate setting up altars in their homes to honor the memory of deceased loved ones and to welcome their visiting souls.

Pan de muerto can take many different forms. It is commonly shaped as a domed skull decorated with bones and tears made from dough, but sometimes it is made as a cross, tombstone or a human body. Bakeries cater to Hispanic populations with large displays of pan de muerto. It is common to make pan de muerto with anise- and orange-scented yeasted wheat-flour bread that is sprinkled with multi-colored sugar crystals. Some Hispanic supermarkets donate loaves of pan de muerto to schools, where they are used to educate children on Mexican culture and religion.

In early January, Hispanic grocery stores plan for the celebration of Epiphany by preparing for a surge in customer demand for rosca de reyes. This Hispanic tradition takes place 12 days after Christmas on the sixth day of January, Epiphany Day, or the appearance of the three wise men. Stores will sell hundreds of rosca de reyes during this time.