Many U.S. consumers don't know Mexican cheese from beans.
Consider: It is only in recent years that many mainstream consumers nationwide could discern a burrito from an enchilada. All of this has made life somewhat miserable for marketing gurus at Cacique Inc., the City of Industry firm that is the nation's biggest Latino-owned maker of Mexican cheese.
Cacique makes a dozen different cheeses favored by Latinos--but whose names few Anglos can even pronounce. Now executives there are tackling a very difficult marketing mission: trying to coax mainstream consumers to plop Mexican cheese in their grocery carts.
Dozens of consumer giants--from General Mills to Kraft Foods--have developed sophisticated marketing plans to chase after the lucrative Latino market. But in a marketing role reversal, several Latino-owned companies are now trying to bump up business by luring mainstream consumers to the table.
Most of the companies are food makers such as Cacique, tortilla giant Mission Foods, and one of the nation's largest Latino-owned companies, Goya Foods. Several are familiar Mexican beer importers, including Corona and Tecate.
Of the nation's 500 largest Latino-owned companies, about 18% are manufacturers--and an increasing number of them are trying to market their products to non-minority consumers, said Hector Cant, deputy managing editor of Santa Barbara-based Hispanic Business magazine. "It's a natural market to go after if you want to grow," he said.
Experts warn that these marketers have their work cut out for them. Anglos and Latinos are "two very different types of consumers with two very different mind sets," said Carl J. Kravetz, president of Cruz/Kravetz: Ideas, a Los Angeles firm that specializes in Latino market advertising.
"Each has different needs to be filled by the same product," he said. For example, while Anglos might like a particular Mexican food because they think it tastes exotic, Latinos might prefer the dish simply because it's part of their heritage.
Nevertheless, some marketers think this might be a good time to try for the crossover.
"The market is more willing than ever to accept Hispanic products," said Paul L. Casanova, president of Casanova Pendrill Publicidad, an Irvine-based agency that creates Spanish-language advertising. Many mainstream consumers have become more accepting as Latinos have assimilated into the Anglo culture, he said.
Looking for growth, executives at Cacique realized they could no longer ignore non-Latinos.
"We are in virtually all of the stores in Southern California--even Gelson's--but we have only been targeting a minority of the population," said Gilbert B. de Cardenas Jr., marketing director and grandson of the company's founder.
Indeed, while the company estimates that it makes more than 80% of all the Mexican cheese sold in the United States, fewer than 5% of its current customers are Anglo.
So how is Cacique marketing its products to Anglos? With "Mexiburgers," which are simply hamburgers with one of Cacique's Mexican cheeses, Queso Quesadilla, replacing conventional American cheese.
Cacique executives figured the best place to meet Anglo consumers was on their own turf: the ground beef section of big supermarkets such as Lucky and Hughes. That is where the firm has done on-site promotions for its Mexiburgers.
"Something like this might at least get some Anglos to try our cheese," Cardenas said.
The firm is also assembling cookbooks to show Anglos how to cook with its cheeses, such as Ranchero, which is especially popular on steamed vegetables. And there's Queso Blanco, a white cheese that is often thinly sliced and placed atop broiled steaks.
To make its name more familiar to general consumers, Cacique is creating its first TV campaign aimed at the mainstream market. Its previous ads have been in Spanish.
In yet one more strategy, Cacique is spending $200,000 to create a float for the Tournament of Roses Parade. An executive said Cacique will be the first Latino-owned company to have a float in the parade.
Also trying to whet the appetite of mainstream consumers is Mission Foods, a Los Angeles maker of tortillas and tortilla chips.
Consumer researchers at the company know that Latinos greatly favor corn tortillas, while Anglos generally prefer flour. So Mission markets corn tortillas exclusively to Latinos under the brand name Guerrero, the Mexican state where Acapulco is located. But it markets flour tortillas to Anglos under the Mission name.
"It's basic marketing," said Estela Tejidor, marketing director at the company. "Mission is a name that makes more sense to Anglos. Everyone knows what a mission is."
The 35-year-old company is entering its second year of direct marketing to Anglos. "Lack of familiarity is the biggest obstacle we face," Tejidor said. Mission's ads aimed at mainstream consumers simply try to show what tortillas are and how to cook with them.