Lent Me Your Ears

Friends, shopper marketers, countrymen, Lent me your ears.

Lent, for Catholics in the know, began Feb. 18 this year. Many moons ago, while working on retail programs for Kraft, our shopper marketer team was brainstorming Hispanic opportunities. Our brainstorm lassoed Lent as absolutely under-leveraged with Latino shoppers. Granted, Lent is much the religious season. But it has a significant impact on this demographic in its influence on meal preparation. Fish Fridays, when Catholics abstain from meat, puts a premium on seafood or other meatless recipes. For this article, rather than discussing the reasons for the season, I'd like to focus on practical marketing advice to activate this shopper intelligence.

Manufacturers recognize that Hispanic grocery shopping behavior morphs during Lent. Brand marketers' difficulty is in capitalizing on that behavior. The questions often start with: Should I use the word Cuaresma (Lent) in my communications? Is it too religious a connotation for my brand? The short answer: Christmas is both a religious and secular holiday. So think of Cuaresma as another tag for another shopper season with religious roots.



Actually, many retailers and brands for years have been modulating their shopper marketing programs for Lent — spotlighting shopper circulars with beautiful seafood offerings and headlines like "Especiales de Cuaresma" (Lenten specials). In particular, I have noticed brands like Gamesa (a subsidiary of PepsiCo; also Mexico's largest maker of cookies) executing effectively against this space — for instance, with a canned tuna and mayo partner alongside their saltine brand "Saladitas." Gamesa's attractive marine-themed displays are replete with Cuaresma everywhere. So, stop worrying about it. If anything, using it makes things easier for the shopper.

Actually, a number of Hispanic retailers put a great deal of care into re-merchandising their stores for Lent. The more innovative chains create a temporary fish counter on Fridays near the store entrance or next to the produce section. Recognizing the critical nature of Hispanic seasonal shopper behavior, some retailers go so far as to create a satellite destination for their seafood section. What is surprising is the number of larger chains that evidently haven't tested such ideas. If only they would, they'd be in a stronger position to capitalize during Cuaresma.

Why are the large chains missing the boat? Well, for one thing, they fail to put themselves in the "mamá mindset" of the season. Some recent research for a food manufacturer disclosed several interesting shopper emotions that come into play during Lent. One is the "dinner dilemma times two." Hispanic shoppers may be adept at making quick in-store decisions to come up with meal solutions. But also present is a tension, an almost "deer in the headlights" quality among some caused by disruption of their shopper routine. The need to satisfy the special dietary demands of the Lenten menu creates an opportunity for manufacturers to step in with creative cross-merchandising, bundle offerings, incentives, and in-store communication.

Another finding lasered in on Cuaresma meal selection. About two years ago, we conducted a national demographic shop-along study which revealed that "meal communion starts at the store." In other words, there is a strong emotional driver among Hispanic shoppers to shop as a group during the large stock-up trip. That's because "if they are going to eat this meal together then it only makes sense that they shop for it together." The specialness of this behavior is underscored even more during Lent by the high affinity for "those special Lenten recipes" — this came across clearly in our recent shopper research. These are the memorable recipes that shoppers' mamá or tia (aunt) used to make and which the family now wants to preserve and pass on to their children as part of their cherished cultural traditions.

Although the 40 days of Lent may not appear be a special shopper holiday period like Christmas, Lent (and Easter) do comprise a micro-season that alert manufacturers and retailers recognize as a still-emerging, still-growing Hispanic shopper opportunity. Brands that have not adequately leveraged Lent but are hungry to sell more food this spring need to take note.

13 comments about "Lent Me Your Ears".
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  1. Marcelo Salup from Iffective LLC, February 19, 2015 at 10:51 a.m.

    Many years ago, when I was regional media director at FCB, SCJ's director of marketing said --in pretty much the same tone as above-- that "the time to advertiser shoe polish in Mexico was May because, by law, every kid had to go to school with polished shoes and sales spiked" What I had noticed in the real world contradicted this: most kids wore sneakers to school.

    I challenged Hugo, the DOM, to show me (1) the law and (2) the spike. He could produce neither. Sales were essentially flat.

    Anecdotically too, but I have not seen any real movement (say a 5% or 10% increase) for lent that would make a special marketing effort pay off (unless it is the simples, cheapest one). I would challenge Mr. Siewczynski to produce the numbers too.

    Because, honestly, this comes across as one of those myths about Hispanics that, when analyzed objectively, doesn't exist. I haven't seen real consumers changing their shopping habits that much at all.

  2. cara marcano from reporte hispano, February 19, 2015 at 2:25 p.m.

    Hispanics -- like many folks in the black and non-black, non-Latino general market -- are much, much less religious. Religion, we sometimes forget, is also culture and changes in religion
    Health eaters, or folks interested in eating organic for example are more likely to be spiritual or to say a blessing of thanks at the dinner table - the contents of that blessing are not what they might have been in a more traditional middle-middle US society 50 years ago. That certainly presents opportunity as all great marketing as this foundation in history, tradition and opportunity in the ability to move people, ideas, sales etc. Very very exciting stuff if one pays attention and uses common sense, good creative and yes, print media ; ) and 360 media not just great creative on bad TV. XO ~ language does remain important as do the symbols... some words also do not translate as some concepts do not translate. FAT TUESDAY Is not much of a phenomenon and Latinos traditionally don't give up things for Lent the way for all those days or weeks. They eat FISH on Friday traditionally and all traditions can be played with as long as they are respected no? !!!

  3. cara marcano from reporte hispano, February 19, 2015 at 2:28 p.m.

    To put this in a general market context - a poll done by Gallup released this week says that in the most traditionally religious part of the US - Utah - only 1/2 of folks go to church weekly.
    In Vermont 17 % of folks go to a religious service once a week. Folks are not as traditionally religious as they once were and Latinos have moved a lot in this space - either to being less religious or less overall Catholic - and this presents tremendous opportunity b/c here we see how Latinos in the US are open, seeking and optimistic... AKA : a Marketers dream come true !

  4. cara marcano from reporte hispano, February 19, 2015 at 2:28 p.m.

    To put this in a general market context - a poll done by Gallup released this week says that in the most traditionally religious part of the US - Utah - only 1/2 of folks go to church weekly.
    In Vermont 17 % of folks go to a religious service once a week. Folks are not as traditionally religious as they once were and Latinos have moved a lot in this space - either to being less religious or less overall Catholic - and this presents tremendous opportunity b/c here we see how Latinos in the US are open, seeking and optimistic... AKA : a Marketers dream come true !

  5. cara marcano from reporte hispano, February 19, 2015 at 2:35 p.m.

    Black pop music is having a lot of fun in this space also.
    Take a look at say Beyonce or some others (Usher) who are playing with the culture and history of religion very specifically - and doing it in this very sexy, edgy way that is about messaging about getting a specific message across. We need to really study and think on our own Traditions and history and ideas in Hispanic marketing and do more of what the black musicians in this country are doing here. African American women are very sexually empowered in this country, very sexy and also very, very religious, in-culture. It is a CULTURE of their segment that is most certainly NOT a general market phenomenon and is most certainly not well understood by THE MAN. or THE WHITE WOMAN CMO, CEO as we might refer to them ; )
    If you do not know what I am talking about here you should worry b/c I'm probably referring to you and you need to watch and listen to more Beyonce. : ) Also we need better creative and corporate America to accept that black and Latino creative and media cannot be the same as general market white creative just to save money, just as an efficiency play. Unless you only care about short-term share prices and not long-term sales growth. Or unless you want to fail. OR are short-changing your company's stock LOL

  6. cara marcano from reporte hispano, February 19, 2015 at 2:42 p.m.

    I think also you guys should be careful with this : mamá or tia mindset. Some of you overdo this a bit @ modern American womanhood. Again I'd say look at Beyonce. Is she a mother. Is she what some of you picture when you put the Virgen Mary on packaging or an in-store promo. No. Is this holding some of you/us back? Yes. Yes, the mother is sacred and we all have SUEGRA... : ) That said, there is more room than you guys often give the consumer credit for and this is a bit more complicated and I'd like to see us all push the envelope here a big more and be more demanding of the clients, who are playing it way, way, way too safe. I'd also say take a look at say the Virgen Mary as she is portrayed in say Bolivia over a mine. As the mother earth. This is very beautiful, universal stuff and when we say lead with Hispanic insights we mean this. Not make all the women nagging Tias ; )

  7. Roberto Siewczynski from Epsilon, February 19, 2015 at 3:39 p.m.

    Thank you all for your comments. I Specifically wanted to address some of Mr. Salup's questions on data - great challenge! While I would not disclose confidential info from our clients I would encourage him to visit some Hispanic stores this month (or read the link below or just google "Cuaresma Supermercados" and click on news).

    What inspired me to write on this particular topic was empirical observation, just as Mr. Salup was inspired many years ago to challenge the "shoe polish paradox". As I was doing my regular Hispanic store visits, I could not stop noticing the Tuna/Mayo/Saladitas displays with Cuaresma POP. Specifically, I would recommend folks visit and monitor circulars for some of the following chains: Vallartas, Cardenas, Food City, Northgate Markets, Mi Pueblo, Michoacana. It will be evident (if you do your homework) that this is an occasion retailers focus on because they know its important to their shoppers. Or, look south of the border at what Soriana, Walmart (Mexico), HEB (Mexico), Comercial Mexicana, etc ,etc are doing. Incidentally somebody just sent me this today after reading my article: A smart shopper marketer (like McCormicks or Kraft, Gamesa, Herdez) would find ways to tie into this occasion via meal solution and basket building offers for a spike in sales. If you are not seeing a significant lift its because you failed on sell-in to the retailer. If you think that traditional media will move the needle then you are looking at this the wrong way. Retailers really don't care about your advertising they care about what you are doing to drive traffic and basket size with THEIR stores. If you want true incrementality you need to do custom retail programs sell-in the incremental display and support with sell-through shopper tactics. In shopper marketing we look at the world very differently than traditional media planning. The days of the "awareness funnel" are long gone because retailers now have the power. Its for that reason you see brands actively shifting $ from advertising into shopper marketing.

  8. Marcelo Salup from Iffective LLC, February 19, 2015 at 3:45 p.m.

    So far, all I see is one end of the equation: the retailer and, in some cases, the brand/manufacturer.

    Not to be dismissive, but they could all be wrong for several reasons:

    1. The retailer could be doing this (minimal) program in an effort to boost sales any which way. Supermarkets, especially, have wafer-thin (pun intended) margins and they are always looking for even the smallest edge.

    But we have no clue (and perhaps they themselves don't?) of whether it works, not works, maybe works...

    2. Where I tend to be much more cynical is in looking at the marketers. I've always had this sneaky suspicion (which every so often I've managed to corroborate) that many people on the Hispanic (and other minorities) marketing side of clients sort of invent these little differences to make their jobs more relevant, important or to not get fired.

    Where I don't see the data is from the consumer side.

    If I see it, I'll believe it. I think if twas one of your own saints, Thomas, who said that.

  9. Roberto Siewczynski from Epsilon, February 19, 2015 at 4:04 p.m.

    Now that you brought up St. Thomas I suggest we get St. Nielsen involved :) ...would love to see some in depth work by them on this topic. Interestingly, you mention 2 of the 3 elements of the shopper equation (Retailer and Manufacturer). The third one is THE SHOPPER (not the consumer), and to put it simply what does the shopper want during lent? Fish. So, if you are a complimentary category why would you not provide a shopper solution to get some incremental sales. Retailers do operate on razor thin margins which is all the more reason why they need velocity and focusing on fish during lent gives them that increase in revenue per square foot thus yielding more cash flow. If they DIDN"T do this then they would probably take a sever hit on their margins. Same reason they put those BBQ displays with charcoal and hot dogs during July 4th. Here is a more precise example: a few years ago we used to work with the Clamato brand. One day we came up with as simple idea: why not sell Clamato as an ingredient for "Cóctel de Camarones". We grew the brand by over 20% during the timeframe in one chain. Next year other chains wanted the program and it became embedded in the marketing plan as a must do for over 20 chains. We sold more shrimp, we sold more Clamato and we grew the basket because we also had a $1.00 off on Crackers.

  10. Marcelo Salup from Iffective LLC, February 19, 2015 at 4:19 p.m.

    The Clamato + Coctel de Camarones precisely disproves your point. It is a year-round program. Not a specific lent one.

    Anecdotically again (until I see real data... ) and in the U.S. (I lived in every single "feeder" market for the U.S. Hispanic market: Mexico (2x), Argentina, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and whatever happens in those countries has little real impact on what Latinos do here (with a couple of exceptions like Bimbo, Gamesa, Coca Cola and Colgate) I don't see almost any Latino under 45 observing lent. Considering that the average age of Latinos is around 28, those who are older just don't count as much (and even those, I don't see observing lent).

  11. Roberto Siewczynski from Epsilon, February 19, 2015 at 4:45 p.m.

    Clamato + Shrimp program was executed for the first time in the US during Lent. It was sold into the retailer as a lent program, during lent to help liquidate the large lent shrimp inventory the retailer had ordered because during lent, Latino shoppers eat more fish and seafood. It was so successful that it expanded to other chains for lent but eventually (and this is why you may think it was not lent specific) it became a standard part of the playbook (just as we had parrillada solutions for summer, botana solutions for games, etc) that retailers could activate through the year. Lent was the catalyst (and focus) for this program because there was a Hispanic shopper need that was addressed with an effective shopper program. It grew from there and yes today you may will see it also executed during the summer. Any smart retailer would want to replicate what works.

  12. B Rivero from The Cortez Brothers, February 19, 2015 at 9:34 p.m.

    I wonder if there will be any cuaresma shifts based on the changing of the guard in Rome. At least on the West Coast, I’m hearing talk of consistent reminders that Friday evening meals are supposed to be small and modest — simple soups, a light supper broken with family — which hasn’t necessarily been the main message in years past. The “don’t eat meat” line is potentially giving way to “don’t eat much at all” and, if so, that means anyone trying to reach Latinos through Lent promotions might have to shift strategy towards emphasizing family seafood meals that are lighter and simpler.

  13. Roberto Siewczynski from Epsilon, February 20, 2015 at 10:48 a.m.

    Interesting comment from B Rivero. Although I am not Catholic as an outsider looking in I would say Pope Francis has re-energized the Catholic faith and your comment could well cary a lot of truth. Its clear his leadership style and personality have had an impact on attitudes which ultimately could lead to consumption patterns changing (less indulgence to your point).

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