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.