A year after it began testing a new store format geared toward Hispanic shoppers, Food Lion is expanding it in two more North Carolina markets and making plans to convert 10 more Triangle stores.
Responding in part to growth in the more than $30 billion Hispanic grocery market, the Salisbury-based grocer began testing the format in August of last year, converting five Triangle stores into ones carrying a much wider array of Hispanic products.
Along with significantly bulked-up selections of dry goods such as beans, tortillas and spices, the stores also carry cuts of meat and produce items popular with Hispanic shoppers.
The employees at those stores also undergo training both in the Spanish language and Hispanic culture.
In-store signs and television advertisements marketed directly to Hispanic households tout Food Lion's message of "Sabor Latino," which means "Latin Flavor."
Marketing manager Daniel Herrera declined to offer specifics but said the five stores are "performing extremely well" -- well enough that officials feel comfortable expanding the test program.
Last week, the company opened 13 stores in the Piedmont area all featuring the Hispanic focus, and it didn't take long to see a sales increase.
"The key elements get translated into results almost within a week," Herrera said. "This community is really tight, and the word of mouth travels very quickly."
Food Lion will convert another 22 stores, including 10 in the Triangle, this month, with plans to reopen those stores officially on Aug. 12.
It will also revamp 19 stores in the Charlotte market this summer, reopening those in September.
When all of those conversions have been done, 59 stores, or roughly 10 percent of Food Lion's 503 North Carolina locations, will have the Hispanic focus.
Herrera declined to say how much the store conversions cost or to comment on any plans to expand the new store model further.
The move is a smart one being made by several grocery store chains nationally, said Bill Greer, spokesman for the Food Marketing Institute.
At the very least, most retailers are placing more emphasis on ethnic groceries, he said, citing the institute's annual study on the grocery business, which showed that 61.8 percent of food retailers are increasing ethnic products as a competitive strategy.
"The demand is strong," Greer said. "Food is a very important part of the Hispanic culture. ... We've had several mainstream chains develop whole formats around Hispanic food."
And, Greer added, Hispanic products are also getting a boost from non-Hispanic customers looking for new options.
"Hispanic foods in many respects have gone mainstream."
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