Area grocers stock shelves to appeal to Hispanics |

Area grocers stock shelves to appeal to Hispanics

Dan Sherman

In response to the growing presence of Hispanic consumers in Washoe County, local grocers are stocking their shelves with more and more of the staples of the Hispanic diet.

In particular, Raley’s, a 134-store chain with 12 stores in Northern Nevada, and the two Sak’ N Saves are responding to the needs of Hispanic grocery shoppers.

“We’ve expanded our Hispanic food offerings in our northern Nevada stores,” said spokesperson Nicole Townsend from the Raley’s headquarters in Sacramento.

“We’ve added Mexican drinks and pastries, and greatly increased our stock of sliced steak which is used in Mexican dishes South of the border.”

Fare is also quite common in the two local Sak ‘N Save stores, thanks to the efforts of Dennis Lundbom, the stores’ director of operations.

The veteran of 36 years in the grocery business, Lundbom is bringing his experience in Mexican food products from San Jose, Calif.

where he opened and managed a Food 4 Less grocery store.

Sak ‘N Save is a unit of Reno-based Scolari’s Food & Drug, which has focused on increasing its share of the Hispanic market in the region.

“When I got here three years ago, our selection and prices were out of whack,” said Lundbom.

“Hispanic shoppers know their prices and are very specific about the brands they want.

I’ve been working to turn things around.”

The first thing Lundbom changed was the produce section.

“Hispanic shoppers like to see produce piled high.

They are more hands-on than other shoppers; they like to see and feel lots of produce in order to make their selection.”

Lundbom put in new produce counters, and piled the produce in large quantities in his two stores.

He admitted that the mass quantity of produce which assaults your eyes has a psychological effect.

“If customers see a lot of food out there, they assume that the price is good.”

Lundbom also revamped the meat section, adding new high-volume slicers to create the thinly sliced meat, chicken and pork required for Mexican dishes.

“We’ll go through 300-400 roasts a week, slicing the meat thin the way Hispanic customers like it,” said Lundbom.

Responding to the Hispanic community’s needs is sound business practice, given that in Washoe County their numbers have reached 30 percent of the population, the majority of whom are from Mexico.

“There’s been a tremendous influx of Hispanics into the western U.S.,” said Lundbom, “from Mexico, Central and South America.

But a factor influencing their population growth even more is their birth rate.

They are very family oriented and tend towards a higher birth rate than other groups.”

Hispanic shoppers also represent, because of their cultural heritage, a sweet spot for grocery marketers.

“There’s three really important things to this population group,” said Lundbom.

“Food, family and music.

They’re not into the “hot and to-go” foods.

They make big dinners for the whole family, and they cook from scratch.”

Lundbom’s stores have responded by stocking more food from Mexico at the lowest possible prices.

“Low prices are very important, and these shoppers know their prices.

They know what they paid in Mexico, and they compare the prices here.”

To compensate for the smaller margins, Lundbom aims to buy in bulk whenever he can.

“Because we price our products low, we count on a higher turnover of product,” said Lundbom, “and we buy popular items like peppers, beans and flour by the truckload.”

Lundbom keeps his customers satisfied by offering them the authentic Mexican brands they trust.

“The shoppers know their brands, so we stock products from Mexican producers like La Costena, Mojave, Valentina, El Mexicano, Jumex and Gamesa.

Customers appreciate the authenticity.”

The stores also sell vast quantities of U.S.

products with a strong brand foothold in Mexico, such as beer and soft drinks.

“We’re the No.

1 seller of Budweiser and Pepsi in northern Nevada,” said Lundbom.

The two Sak ‘N Save stores are more than a source of popular brands, they also serve an important community function.

“We provide financial service centers in our stores staffed by bilingual agents,” said Lundbom.

“It’s a place where shoppers can get money orders, money grams and pay utility bills.

The bilingual customer service reps are helpful because they can explain such things as making partial payments on utility bills.”

Many of Lundbom’s customers from Mexico send money back regularly to relatives, and he said that on the first of the month there’s a line at the counter almost out the door.

But the store does not make a profit on the service, in fact, it’s just the opposite.

“Because of the high labor costs of these centers, they actually cost us money,” said Lundbom.

“But it’s part of the culture of our store; it’s a service to the people.”

Since the stores are in tune with the community, it makes sense that they also play a big part in Hispanic holidays.

“We always have a big celebration in synch with important Mexican holidays,” said Lundbom.

“We put tents up and get the manufacturers involved by putting on food demonstrations.We provide tacos, snow cones, and mariachi bands.”

This year, Sak ‘N Sav plans a huge party Sept.

20-21 at its store at 1000 E.

Plumb Lane.

The September event marks independence days in Mexico and other Latin American countries.

“Our event will be the weekend after the main events around town.

Everyone has gotten on the bandwagon with this holiday, so we wanted to have an isolated event.”

Lundbom also participates in remote events staged by the two local Hispanic television stations.

And they are major advertisers with those stations.

“We run 80 spots a month on each station, where we partner with vendors such as Budweiser, 7-Up, Miller and Mexican food manufacturers to give them exposure to the community.We feature three noncompeting vendors in each spot.”