A Universal Language

By Dan Malovany

Targeting various ethnic groups can be a tricky proposition, but leveraging health and wellness allows bakers to reach a broad swath of consumers with a clear message that hits home with everyone.

anificacion saludable. Gesundes backen. It doesn’t matter what language consumers speak. “Healthy baking” translates to a wide variety of ethnic groups facing a number of concerns, from reducing the risks of heart disease and cancer in older Americans to preventing birth defects and providing the necessary nutrients to build strong bodies for the world’s youth.
As Judi Adams, president of the Grain Foods Foundation, explains: “On a global basis, obesity is the No. 1 health concern that is overriding everything else. The big nutrient concerns in developing countries are iron, Vitamin A and folic acid deficiencies.”
A classic example of targeting ethnic groups with a healthy baking message is the GFF’s program with the March of Dimes to promote ways to fight birth defects. The two groups have been targeting Hispanic women of child-bearing age, with spokespersons MTV vee-jay Susie Castillo and Sylvia Melendez Klinger, a Hispanic dietician who is on the foundation’s scientific advisory board. The goal, Adams says, is to reach out and educate Hispanic women about the benefits of folic acid in preventing birth defects.
 “Since Hispanic women are doubly likely to have a baby with a neural tube defect, we try to reach them through satellite media tours, television appearances and TV and print PSAs [public service announcements] in Spanish,” Adams says. “Since adding folic acid fortification to enriched grains was mandated in 1998, there has been a 36% reduction in NTDs in the Hispanic population.”
Overall, the Agricultural Marketing Resources Board estimates that the U.S. ethnic food market does around $75 billion in annual sales, or about $1 in $7 spent on groceries. Supplying the foodservice channel, which makes up 65% of ethnic food sales, provides the greater world of opportunity, the AMRB reports. Those numbers, however, may be conservative. Some other studies gauge the ethnic food market as double what the AMRB reports.
It’s easy to see why ethnic foods are flourishing in the restaurant industry. Consider this fact: There are more Chinese restaurants throughout the nation than there are McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s units combined, notes the Institute of Food Technology in its report on “What, When and Where America Eats.”
It’s also easy to see why more companies are targeting various ethnic groups. The U.S. food industry truly has become America’s Melting Pot, as most consumers consider ethnic foods such Mexican or Chinese mainstream. Although Italian remains the top ethnic food, the rise in popularity of Mexican food might soon make it the No. 1 ethnic food of choice in America, notes a recent study called Menu Insights by Chicago-based researcher Mintel.
“Mexican food has become as popular as burgers and pasta in American culture,” the report notes.
In addition, America’s demographics continue to diversify. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 41.3 million Hispanics in the United States in 2005, making it the largest ethnic group in the nation. The bureau also notes that there are 39.7 million African Americans, or 13.4% of the U.S. population. In addition, 14.4 million people list themselves as Asian.
 More than 60% of Hispanics are of Mexican descent. The Census Bureau reports that some 27 million Mexicans, or 9% of the population, live in the United States. Puerto Ricans and Cubans comprise the second and third largest groups. By 2015, the Census Bureau predicts, the number of Hispanics will reach 50 million.
Not coincidentally, Mintel Menu Insights lists Latin American flavors as the second largest trends for 2007, next only to — you guessed it — healthy living. Targeting ethnic groups with healthy baked goods and snacks simply is a natural formula for expanding sales.
The World Is Flat
In America, the snack and baking industries are responding with natural products that are filled with an assortment of grains. Some producers of grain-based foods seem to have the whole world in their hands when it comes to healthy baking.
“Flatbreads are the new big item for family and fast food restaurants,” Adams notes. “Whole grain tortillas are selling like hotcakes — pardon the pun.”
Last year, for instance, Mi Rancho Tortillas rolled out its Healthy Mex line, which is composed of all the better-for-you products that the San Leandro, Calif.-based company introduced over the years, including a battery of varieties containing higher amounts of fiber, whole wheat and whole grains. The line includes low-carb and low-fat options, too.
Meanwhile, Gruma Corp., Irvine, Texas, introduced Mission Tortillas Plus!-Carb Balance Flour Tortillas, available in taco size. Each tortilla has 7 g. net carbohydrates and 5 g. protein, and is a good source of fiber.
More recently, Santa Fe Tortilla Co. introduced South Beach Diet Wraps in multigrain and whole wheat varieties. Each is made with extra virgin olive oil. According to Mintel, the 110-calorie wraps from the Santa Fe, N.M.-based company contain Omega-3, have 8 g. of fiber and are free from trans fats, saturated fats, hydrogenated oils and cholesterol. The company also introduced home-style whole grain tortillas.
Sergio Valle, who’s in charge of East Coast sales for Minsa Corp., a producer of corn masa and ingredients for tortillas and Mexican foods, notes that developing better-for-you products fits naturally with a number of ethnic baked goods and snacks.
“Mainstream America considers ethnic foods healthier due to more natural products and some methods used for shelf life,” Valle explains. “In comparison to our fast food restaurants and products being modified to accommodate shelf life, people are being more cautious about what they are eating.”
Corn tortillas, for example, have transitioned from the Hispanic culture into the mainstream American diet, he adds. Adding whole grains or developing multigrain alternatives can transform of perceptions of conventional baked goods into value-added products that could reduce heart disease or control weight problems.
“I believe products that are labeled, processed and geared toward the health conscious are on the cutting edge,” he says.
Adams points to consumption of Mexican dishes, which jumped 367% annually for children ages 6-11 between 1978 and 2002. Among older kids ages 12-19 the amount of Mexican food that they ate each year grew by more than fivefold over that same period, she says. At the same time, however, the amount of milk these groups drank declined significantly.
“This is a great opportunity to make sure tortillas and tortilla chips are fortified with folic acid and perhaps calcium,” Adams notes.
Portion Control Rules
Not surprisingly, the industry’s major players are targeting various ethnic groups with healthy products.
Kellogg Co., for example, unveiled a Hispanic marketing program at last year’s Food Marketing Institute show in Chicago. The Battle Creek, Mich.-based company’s multicultural group has developed in-store displays, research tools, bilingual point-of-sale materials and recipes reaching out to Spanish-speaking consumers.
Likewise, Minneapolis-based General Mills last year introduced a multicultural marketing program called Que Rica Vida that’s geared at Hispanics, as well as “Serving up Soul,” which is aimed at African Americans. As demographics continue to shift, the company notes, it’s important to appeal to growing consumer segments with targeted promotional programs.
Jumping on various ethnic diets regimens also can be effective in targeting consumers.
“Mediterranean and East Indian Foods are the rave at the moment,” says George Kashou, vice president and owner of Milwaukee-based Kangaroo Brands, a producer of pita bread and chips.
“Mediterranean foods is a hot trend and here to stay, especially because consumers are learning more about the health benefits of olive oil, hummus, pita breads, baked pita chips, lentils, tabouli, just to name a few,” he adds. “Most of these foods are made with natural ingredients and usually not fried.”
Kashou says bakers and snack producers also are paying closer attention to serving size and portion control since many studies are starting to connect America’s obesity epidemic with over-consumption.
Kangaroo, he adds, has been ahead of the curve with what it calls “The Pocket Diet.” This portion-control plan uses pita pickets to automatically measure food portions. Each pocket holds 3-4 oz. of vegetables and other healthy foods
“The pocket is the perfect edible container and makes the easiest sandwich to eat on the go,” Kashou says. “The long-term sustainable trend is moving away from fad diets and toward healthier food choices combined with portion control.”
For breakfast, Kangaroo has developed a Cheese Omelet and a Santa Fe Omelet, both stuffed inside whole wheat pita pockets. It also rolled out a whole grain sandwich pocket that’s pre-opened for easy use. In addition, the company has introduced trans fat-free pita chips made with “heart healthy” sunflower oil. They come in Sea Salt, Whole Grain French Onion, Garlic Herb and Cinnamon Sugar varieties.
The pita chip category is exploding,” Kashou says. “Expect this alterative to fried snacks to show strong growth in the years ahead.”
For a growing number of consumers, healthy baking is beginning to speak volume, in almost every language.
Spend Money, Gain Weight
Americans spend billions on diet and health food products, and they also have a strong interest in foods that are labeled organic, but the rate of obesity continues to rise because they’re consuming 25% more calories than they did in 1970.
Those are the findings of a report by Mintel International titled “Attitudes to Food: Weight and Diet,” published in March.
Although Americans are interested in low-calorie foods, the report concludes that many are eating an “unbalanced, calorie-dense diet” with added fats, sugars and flour/cereal products accounting for most of the increase. Additionally, adults who go to fast food restaurants eat at such establishments seven times per month on average. As a result of these habits, two-thirds are overweight or obese, and some 79 million have cardiovascular disease.
Respondents to Mintel’s consumer survey expressed strong interest in foods or food trends that reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. However, that might just be lip service. In fact, about four in 10 respondents to the Mintel survey noted that they do not limit the kind of foods they eat nor the amount they consume.
At the same time, Mintel’s Global New Products Database’s survey of more than 16,000 food products launched in 2006 indicates that none of the top 10 food claims mentioned heart disease, cancer or diabetes claim. This suggests that there might be a disconnect between which claims consumers are interested in and which claims are promoted by food companies, Mintel noted.
Mintel also cited several future trends:
• The aging U.S. population will lead to more adults with health conditions or diseases that cannot be mitigated by diet. In fact, the over-50 crowd is projected to grow by 25% between 2005 and 2010.
• The U.S. population will become more diverse. Mintel notes that the number of Hispanics, currently the nation’s largest minority, will grow by 6 million between 2007 and 2012.
• Look for Americans to spend billions more on diet books and health products. “While they may make some progress, they will continue to spend and to fall short,” the report says.
For more information, visit www.Mintel.com.