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Consumer Trends

56 million served

Why catering to Latino customers is no longer optional.
McDonald's "First Customer" ad aims for broad appeal

Years ago, when restaurant companies first trained their radar on the growing market of Hispanic consumers, their outreach largely consisted of Spanish-language commercials introducing this audience to the deliciousness of their signature menu items.

We’ve come a long way, bebé. Today, enlightened companies understand the nuances of this enormous, powerful and still-growing group of 55.8 million—now comprising 18 percent of all QSR traffic and 12 percent of casual-dining visits. “It’s difficult, if not impossible, to win without winning with Hispanic consumers,” Peter Filiaci, vice president of the Strategies and Insights group at Univision, told the audience at the Restaurant Leadership Conference last month.

Winning means looking at what drives Hispanic consumers’ buying decisions. According to research by Univision, at QSRs, Hispanic diners are looking for:

  • Social experiences that allow for time with family and friends
  • Alternative dayparts, particularly early morning and late evening
  • Fresh food and ingredients that feel like home
  • A sense of feeling invited and welcome.

For casual-dining occasions, the desires are a little different:

  • Social experiences often involve large parties of friends and family (and larger check averages)
  • Freshness still is important, but the motivation is different: “Only the best for my loved ones”
  • Hispanics demand more occasions from casual dining, including breakfast, happy hour and late night
  • Digital is a favorite medium, and this audience is using the space for ongoing conversations about food.

Additional research from NPD Group spotlighted key differences between Spanish-speaking Hispanic households and mainly English-speaking or non-Hispanic households. For example, among Spanish-speaking Hispanics, 80 percent of their restaurant visits are to a major chain, largely QSRs, said Kelly Fechner, vice president of product management/food service at NPD Group in Chicago. Spanish-speaking Latinos also eat on premise more often and tend to order more menu items per guest.

Also important is understanding that Hispanic consumers in the U.S. identify with a “dual culture,” Filiaci said. “They feel 100 percent Latino and 100 percent American.” Perhaps the clearest indicator that companies are beginning to “get it” is the mainstreaming of “Hispanic” messages. During the Oscars, McDonald’s debuted its “First Customer” ad that featured Latino parents proudly—and giddily—visiting their son on his first day of work at the restaurant. Denny’s tapped The Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan as the spokesman for its Sizzlin’ Skillet in a Funny or Die-inspired spot that ran on YouTube in both English and Spanish. Commercials like these, said operators, blur the line between what is Hispanic and what is general market.

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