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But acculturation isn't unidirectional, as evidenced by Mainstream America's new affinity for Hispanic flavor profiles and dishes, as well as Latin entertainers such as Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez.
"For a half century, Hispanics were quiet about themselves," says Ross. "Now, it is trendy and hip; there is a new pride in being Latino."
Faster growth, slower tables
Even as the two cultures co-mingle, there are still fundamental differences in the way Mainstream and Hispanic America approach both food and life. As food companies scurry to create microwaveable, handheld products that mirror the quickened pace of American life, they would do well to remember that the Hispanic culture is slower -- and by design. Accordingly, Hispanic family spends considerably more time preparing food , on average about 45 minutes , as well as eating it. Hispanics also prefer fresh food items, one of the reasons they make more trips to market.
"In Latino families, cooking at home is an activity everyone participates in , at least the women," says Pilar Sanchez, chef de cuisine at The Wine Spectator, Greystone restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America, St. Helena Calif. "Often they make a family project out of it."
"The bond between Hispanics and food is huge and the bond between the meals and what it means to family is key," observes Ross. "It is more than food; it is family time and time together."
More than three-quarters of both U.S. Hispanics and Spanish-dominant Hispanics believe that traditional meal preparation is important, which helps explain why their weekly grocery expenses are about 40 percent greater than the general shopper's. And because Hispanic mothers receive great personal satisfaction from cooking, they believe that freshness is a requisite for food preparation.
Not surprisingly then, recent data suggest that Hispanic shoppers have negative impressions of convenience. Despite their budding acculturation, it's important to speak to these consumers in a way that's relevant to their traditions.
Language & culture
Phonetics, linguistics, and language structure play an important role in reaching both traditional and acculturated Hispanics. Years ago, Chevrolet learned this lesson the hard way with its now infamous launch of the Nova automobile in South America. To the embarrassment of the car manufacturer, "no va" roughly translated to "does not go."
"If you want to talk to them you have to [do it ways that are] relevant to their culture," says de Mello. "Language is a very important aspect of the Hispanic culture, but only one aspect. There is also religion, sports and tastes (food, music, clothes). You need people who understand the cultures behind the stereotypes."
A recent article published by University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business noted that the U.S. Dairy Association's "Got Milk" campaign was misinterpreted by Spanish-speaking consumers as "are you lactating?" The article explained that milk plays a vital role in Hispanic nutrition; it doesn't adapt well to mirth or puns.
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