Oxtail. It’s What’s For Dinner

If oxtail, or rabo de buey, isn’t in your refrigerator just yet, you might want to start looking up some recipes for it. Leading supermarket retailers are now expanding their meat section to include fish heads, chicken feet, and tripe, among other proteins. Due to the increasing demand for ethnic food products by foreign-born consumers, supermarkets have no choice but to satisfy their clients’ needs. It’s true that Hispanic customers seek distinct cuts of meat to include in their traditional dishes – using a substitute would not suffice for Abuelita’s tacos de lengua. Similar trends are beginning to develop among other ethnic groups. Individuals with Carribean or Jewish roots now find their traditional ingredients at the neighborhood market, instead of having to travel to a specific specialty food store.

Meat Market ImageSupermarket chains pay particular attention to this necessity, since doing so can be quite lucrative for them. Per the FreshLook Marketing Group, sales of tongue, tail, and tripe reigned supreme in American grocery stores from May 2011 through April 2012. Sales of beef products spike during the months of June and September, as well as during traditional holidays. Pork-derived proteins brought in the most revenue from October until December. Regional managers must be quick to adapt to these shopping patterns. Studies show that first-generation Hispanics prefer purchasing meat from carnicerías, or stand-alone meat markets. Food retailers must emulate this shopper experience in their own stores in order to provide a benefit to the potential consumer.

With this growing need now identified, supermarkets set their marketing tactics in motion. Chains have found that advertising these ethnic food products on weekly circulars is not entirely effective. Instead, fliers, window signage, and posters denote meat availability and upcoming specials. And of course, these promotional materials are printed in English and at least one other language. Traci Rodemeyer, from the National Pork Board, explains this necessity well, “While different shoppers have different levels of acculturation, it’s always a good idea to offer bilingual messages to eliminate the possibility of missing those who only speak their native languages.”

Additionally, Hispanic shoppers seek convenience when shopping for quality products. Packaging on the food item states a traditional dish for which that specific cut of meat will work best. Chances are that the next time you purchase thin-sliced chicken breasts, the seal will say “Great for milanesa!” Perhaps a package of pre-cut cubes of ribeye will indicate that it’s used for caldillo. For those who are somewhat apprehensive of retailers’ suggestions, a walk-in meat cooler might be the next best thing. Some supermarkets offer slabs of meat located in a specially-designed walk-in coolers. This way, not only do retailers cater to consumers’ distinct preferences for meat cuts, but they also attract a wide array of ethnic clients since they have greater variety.

In an effort to successfully expand their reach, supermarket managers educate their employees on how to serve Hispanic clients. The training encompasses an overview of traditional cuts of meat and how each can be prepared by the consumer. Being aware of certain holidays is also key. “As a retailer, we’ll sell more meat if we can help people understand what it is and how to cook it,” explains Maria Brous, a spokesperson for the Publix Sabor chain of supermarkets.

The next time you’re at your neighborhood supermarket, take a peek at the meat department. The variety that you’ll see is just another way this country’s cultural diversity cultivates change, even in our typical eating habits. Meatloaf for dinner tonight? Nope, I’ll take that tripe stew.

by Sofia Martinez