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La Lista Latina
Understanding how Hispanics make lists and shop for groceries.

For any shopper demographic, understanding the path-to-purchase is complex. But make no mistake, understanding this path for the Latino shopper is even more complex: Latino shoppers have varied levels of acculturation; they come from different countries of origin, each with their own unique points-of-view; they speak another language; and, frankly, they shop differently.

At its inception four years ago, our ‘NVista study was the first quantitative report of its kind to provide an in-depth look at the Latino shopper. The ‘NVista study breaks down the Latino shopper’s behavior and looks at channel preferences, coupon usage, trip planning and other fundamental data gaps that bring to light the shopping habits of this very distinct — and growing — demographic.

Because the US Latino population is becoming an increasingly important target for brands, we felt there was an opportunity to augment our insight into the Hispanic shopper by adding a qualitative layer to our quantitative foundation.

panavista 1We started with the Latina shopping list, or as we refer to it: La Lista Latina. After all, what manufacturer doesn’t want to get on that coveted list? However, to get on this diverse target’s radar screen, we needed to understand how Latino households build a shopping list. How meaningful are lists in-store? How indicative are they of basket size? Do they really matter?

Our research found that 90 percent of Hispanics “make a shopping list” for a stock-up trip, but how does the Latino shopping list come to life? What are the key influences? We knew that 91 percent of gatekeepers in Hispanic households consult with family members on purchases, but how does this affect the store behavior of each family member?

Seventy-two percent of Latinos shop with their families, but wouldn’t it be great to uncover the deep-rooted psychological drivers that lead to this behavior? For every valuable piece of quantitative information we have on the LP2P (Latino Path-to- Purchase), we now have some qualitative insight into what drives this behavior.

As we broached the subject of list-making with Latino shoppers, it was evident that they approach the stock-up trip very differently. List-making is considered to be a very “American thing to do,” and Latino shoppers are in the process of embracing the practice. Whether they are US- or foreign-born, there are strong undercurrents of “mercado shopping” (open-air market) habits that were formed south of the border.

panavista 2Among the more important characteristics is a “just-in-time” approach to shopping and meal preparation. In their country of origin, Latino shoppers were accustomed to a higher frequency of visits and a “daily stock up” versus a “weekly stock up.” Lists, therefore, are not as important because basket sizes are smaller, but more frequent.

Although this changes in the US, even with US-born Latinos, the cultural behavior of list-making for the stock-up trip is neither as ingrained nor evolved.

The Improvisational Shopper

As we started probing how shopping lists are composed, we learned that they tended to be briefer and not very indicative of basket size. We received a lot of comments on the subject such as: “I don’t make a list per se …” or “I write down the basics but decide later.” Interestingly, a clear framework emerged.

At the heart of Latino shopping lists are perishables — specifically meats and produce. These items are typically the trip-drivers for the stock-up. However, there was not a lot of precision within these trip-drivers. Latino shoppers improvise greatly once in-store as it relates to meat and produce.

Think of produce and meats as being much like the main stream of a river from which many tributaries flow into other sections of the store. Stock-up trip drivers (meat and produce) act as prompts or reminders for entire meal solutions, which are often solved in-store, depending on what’s on special.

“I wrote chicken breasts on my list but saw that drumsticks were on special and bought those instead, along with the other items I needed to prepare the recipe I thought of.” — Gloria, Food 4 Less shopper

Manufacturers and retailers therefore need to think in terms of how to better leverage this insight. If produce and meat are the sections, manufacturers need to think about how particular items can provide a shopper solution. For example, cereal manufacturers should get the Latino shopper to think of cereal while in the fruit section and not wait for them to enter the cereal aisle.

The imprecision of Latino shopping lists are more than complemented by finely tuned improvisational shopping skills. Latino shoppers are very adept at improvising while they shop. As we probed into why their lists were so short and what we would consider “vague,” we learned that there is an expectation of surprise-and-delight while they are in-store.

This is no secret to Hispanic-focused retailers. Whether it’s a Hispanic banner for a national chain or a successful, independent Latino retail operation, these stores have a higher incidence of displays and specials because they understand the Latino improvisational shopping mindset.

“My list is short because I expect specials when I am in the store. I will decide in-store, based on those specials, how to prepare a meal for my family.” — Lisbeth, Food 4 Less shopper

With such a high degree of improvisation, in-store manufacturers should focus on providing Latinos with solutions that can leverage items such
as produce and meat through an option-based, in-store recipe solution. So, if she is shopping for chicken drumsticks, why not give her three or four recipe solutions on the spot with corresponding cross-merchandising partners?

Multi-Member Participation

To understand the dynamics that influence a Hispanic shopping list, one must understand the dynamics of Hispanic households. With larger households, and a higher incidence of extended as well as multi-generational families, the development of shopping lists for Latino households tend to be more collaborative.

With multiple age groups to be pleased, careful consideration is given to the different members living in the household. Not only are the “shopping guides” influenced by multiple participants, but in many cases family member names are used as shorthand when preparing a shopping guide. For example, a shopper we interviewed simply wrote “Miguel” on her list. As she explained:

“I wrote ‘Miguel’ because I know there are specific, on-the-go meals that I need to get for him from the frozen section.”Grecia, Vallarta’s shopper

“Luis” stood for strawberries for her grandson. “Juan” was a proxy for easy meals, because he gets up at four in the morning to go to his job at a construction site. Every member of the household is given consideration, and in some cases a household member’s name might stand for three or four items that need to go into the basket.

panavista sidebarSo, stop thinking only about the gatekeeper and start thinking about how many members participate in the list-making process. Instead of an item-based shopping list tool, why not provide Latinos with a person-based list tool? Mom is not thinking carrots, lettuce and chicken. She is thinking: what does Manuel like, what does Jose want and what does the family as a group need?

If shopping guides serve as a “loose playbook,” mom plays the referee. As we started this project, we envisioned Latina moms as sergeants in control of a carefully timed retail attack plan. Instead, we found that moms take a more lenient role, are refereeing the shopping process through their shopping guide, and quite often losing control of the game.

It was interesting to observe how the level of improvisation varies among acculturated versus un-acculturated shoppers. Clearly, lists tend to play a more impactful role as shoppers become more acculturated. However, the improvisational trait remains an important component.

Because this is a game and mom is the referee, manufacturers and retailers should partner to create more “shoppertainment.” If Disney were to design a grocery store, how would they do it? Latino children are extremely influential in particular sections. For example, dairy manufacturers should think about engaging the kids more at the shelf through a didactic and engaging experience that involves both mom and child.

La Lista Latina is just the beginning of a much larger and more elaborate shopping process. While 90 percent of Hispanics make a shopping list for a stock-up trip, it’s clear her list is much different than the norm and it affects how she shops in-store differently versus other shoppers.

ROBERTO SIEWCZYNSKI is evp of strategy and business development for PanaVista, with expertise across the Hispanic path to purchase. Roberto can be reached at

NOVEMBER / DECEMBER 2012 | PDF | Subscribe | Home