Commentary

What Makes Food/Beverage Brands 'Authentic' To U.S. Hispanics

With the second largest Spanish-speaking population in the world, the U.S. represents a sizable opportunity for smaller Latin American brands. Successful brands like Bimbo and Novamex have paved the way.

But for each high-profile success story of Latin American brands entering the U.S. Hispanic market, many other companies will try and fail. Abasto, a platform for Hispanic entrepreneurs in the food industry, has seen far too many Latin American food brands enter the U.S. Hispanic market with a false sense of confidence. 

To gain insight into the situation, Abasto partnered with us in a study on how U.S. Hispanics view Latin American food brands. Here are some insights we gained.

Avoid Making Assumptions

Latin American brands marketing to a Latin American audience might feel that they know their customers well enough. But is well enough good enough? Having a little bit of knowledge about a market can lead to erroneous assumptions regarding what your target audience wants. 

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A common assumption, for example, is that U.S. Hispanics will be more interested in a product simply because it is from Latin America. We asked a nationally representative sample of U.S. Hispanics the following: 

“Imagine that an established brand of food and beverages from Latin America begins offering its products here in the U.S. Knowing that this brand is from Latin America, does this make you…”

  • More interested in their products
  • Less interested in their products
  • Makes no difference to me

In this case, the assumption is true. The data reveals that U.S. Hispanics would be more interested.

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Close to 60% of U.S. Hispanics say they’re more interested in a brand’s products if the brand is from Latin America. 

Based on that information, a marketer might further assume that bilingual labeling will help increase sales. 

Not so fast, though. We also found that most U.S. Hispanics are indifferent toward the presence of bilingual product labels. 

Uncover the Reasons Behind Preferences

In any market, it’s important to delve deeper by asking “why” questions. Why, exactly, are U.S. Hispanics more interested in Latin American food brands? 

Let’s compare what we already know about the market. Studies have shown that millennials and Gen Z consumers (age brackets that make up a large share of the U.S. Hispanic market) want more authentic food and beverage brands. 

If your brand hails from the culture’s country of origin, you might assume that you’re golden. But does that alone make it authentic from your ideal customer’s POV? To find out, we asked:

“What does the word ‘authentic’ mean to you as it relates to a brand of food or beverages?”

Only 14% of U.S. Hispanics associate authenticity with a brand’s relevance to their country of origin/tradition of culture. What is considered authentic? For both U.S. Hispanics and the general population, authenticity is most closely linked to “real ingredients.”

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Where we did see significant differences in perceptions of authenticity was whether the brand was well known. Nearly three times as many Hispanics vs. the general population cited “well-known brand/brand reputation” as most closely related to the word “authentic.” 

Obviously, this is a challenge for start-ups and lesser-known brands. Fortunately, the solution is simple: make a great product. Eighty-six percent of U.S. Hispanics look for “great taste” in food and beverage products, beating out price and healthfulness. 

Putting It All Together

Looking at all of the above findings, we gather that, for Latin American brands, “authenticity” carries additional nuances. Their customers want an experience congruent with their cultural identity. 

Many younger U.S. Hispanics were born here and may have never been to Latin America. Yet, they have experienced the rich culture through stories told and recipes made by their first-generation relatives. They want a product with quality ingredients: one that satisfies the palate and evokes memories of their country of origin’s kitchen. 

Brands that enter a market with this type of detail in their ideal customer profile will be much more likely to succeed. It takes a little more research, but is well worth the effort. 

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