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Businesses Trying to Tap Ethnic Market in US

Increased immigration in recent years has boosted the number of U.S. consumers who are to a large extent unassimilated into North American culture. Sellers of everything from food to clothes to refrigerators are looking for ways to tap into this "ethnic market."

Cesar Melgosa is in the intelligence business. Armed with extensive demographic information, and digital mapping technologies, his company, Geoscape, helps clients locate Americans of Hispanic, African, Asian, and East European descent.

Geoscape's clients are marketers of consumer goods. Why are they looking for these different ethnic communities? "When you look at consumer markets in the U.S., those that are growing are the multicultural markets. The white anglo consumer market is actually shrinking in proportion to the whole market, so if businesses want growth, they need to look to some of these populations for that growth," he said.

Research indicates that U.S. immigrant communities exert a lot of spending power. "They are usually avid consumers, building families, spending money on durable goods. They are buying the washing machines, the automobiles, the houses," Mr. Melgosa said.

And so Geoscape helps marketers find these ethnic groups, and then, Mr. Melgosa said, advises them on what type of promotional efforts will have the most appeal. "In which stores, for example, should you have foreign language advertising? Which stores should you staff with people with different language skills? Where might you be advertising on a local level? That's where we get involved," he said.

Hispanic-Americans alone spend more than $450 billion a year, and visit grocery stores twice as often as consumers born in the United States. Andy Unanue said his company, Goya foods, has thrived on Hispanic spending power.

"We produce all products that Hispanics use to cook - nectars and all types of spices, rice, beans, you name it, we probably carry it," Mr. Unanue said.

But as immigration has increased in recent years, Mr. Unanue said, a funny thing has happened: Ethnic food has become American food, and ethnic cooking has become mainstream. "In fact, we have advertising campaigns in English targeted at the general market. In some of the retail outlets that carry our products, there are really no Hispanics in the community," he said.

Ironically, Mr. Unanue said, as U.S. merchandisers seek out the ethnic market, growing numbers of native born Americans are cooking Hispanic food.