The New American Majority

How food and beverage marketers are targeting Hispanics, Asians and other fast-growing demographic groups.

By Diane Toops, News and Trends Editor

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"As with any other ethnicity – Italian, Asian, German, Russian, etc. – that has immigrated to the U.S., the Mexican population brought with them the foods and recipes of their native country," Beck continues. "They served their favorite foods to their new American friends, they opened street stands or taquerias, and Mexico itself became a vacation destination for many Americans. And while people of all ethnic backgrounds became exposed to the unique textures, flavors and spices of Mexican food, they experimented slowly … just as they did when eating Italian, Chinese, Thai, German, etc. for the very first time."

There were some hard lessons along the way. "In the late 1970s, when we introduced our burritos with jalapeños and/or chile powder (e.g. ancho, chipotle), the general market balked," she says. "Our learnings? It takes time to introduce native spices, heat levels and textures. Palates must become acclimated and consumers must become comfortable and be ready to experiment with different dishes."

Fortunately, acceptance came rather quickly. "Today, consumers, particularly millennials, are looking to experiment with the different flavors, textures and levels of heat that Mexican foods offer," says Beck.

A departure from that family and Hispanic tradition occurred just last month. While Beck remains chairman, Rachel Cullen was appointed president & CEO, replacing a Ruiz family member. Cullen has more than 25 years experience with the likes of Unilever, Kraft, Orange Glo International and, most recently, Dean Foods.

Asian immigrants overtake hispanics

Asians recently passed Hispanics as the largest group of new immigrants to the U.S. Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing group. They are more satisfied than the general public with their lives, finances and the direction of the country, and they place great value on marriage, parenthood, hard work and career success, according to a new survey by Pew Research Center. Pew surveyed 3,511 Asian adults living in all 50 states Jan. 3-March 27 of this year.

A century ago, most Asian Americans were low-skilled, low-wage laborers crowded into ethnic enclaves and targets of official discrimination. Today they are the most likely of any major racial or ethnic group in America to live in mixed neighborhoods and to marry across racial lines.

When newly minted medical school graduate Priscilla Chan married Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg this summer, she joined the 37 percent of all recent Asian-American brides who wed a non-Asian groom.

These milestones of economic success and social assimilation have come to a group that is still majority immigrant. Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of Asian-American adults were born abroad; of these, about half say they speak English very well and half don't.

The educational credentials of these recent arrivals are striking. 61 percent of adults ages 25-64 who have come from Asia in recent years have at least a bachelor's degree. This is double the share among recent non-Asian arrivals, and almost surely makes the recent Asian arrivals the most highly educated cohort of immigrants in U.S. history.

The modern immigration wave from Asia is nearly a half century old and has pushed the total population of Asian Americans – foreign born and U.S born, adults and children – to a record 18.2 million in 2011, or 5.8 percent of the total U.S. population. That's up from less than 1 percent in 1965. By comparison, non-Hispanic whites are 197.5 million (63.3 percent), Hispanics are 52.0 million (16.7 percent) and non-Hispanic Blacks are 38.3 million (12.3 percent).

Asian Americans trace their roots to dozens of countries in the Far East, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Each country of origin subgroup has its own unique history, culture, language, religious beliefs, economic and demographic traits, social and political values and pathways into America.

Despite often sizable subgroup differences, Asian Americans are distinctive as a whole, especially when compared with all U.S. adults, whom they exceed not just in the share with a college degree (49 percent vs. 28 percent), but also in median annual household income ($66,000 versus $49,800) and median household wealth ($83,500 vs. $68,529).

They are more likely than the general public to live in multi-generational family households. Some 28 percent live with at least two adult generations under the same roof, twice the share of whites and slightly more than Blacks and Hispanics who live in such households. U.S. Asians also have a strong sense of filial respect; about two-thirds say parents should have a lot or some influence in choosing one's profession (66 percent) and spouse (61 percent).

Asian Americans have a pervasive belief in the rewards of hard work. 69 percent say people can get ahead if they are willing to work hard, a view shared by a somewhat smaller share of the American public as a whole (58 percent). And 93 percent of Asian Americans describe members of their country of origin group as "very hardworking"; just 57 percent say the same about Americans as a whole.

Asian Americans admit they sometimes go overboard in stressing hard work. 39 percent believe Asian-American parents put too much pressure on their children to do well in school. Just 9 percent say the same about all American parents. On the flip-side, about six in 10 Asian Americans say American parents put too little pressure on their children to succeed in school, while just 9 percent say the same about Asian-American parents. (The publication last year of "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," a comic memoir about strict parenting by Yale law professor Amy Chua, the daughter of immigrants, triggered a spirited debate about cultural differences in parenting norms.)

Large-scale immigration from Asia did not take off until the passage of the landmark Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Over the decades, this modern wave of immigrants from Asia has increasingly become more skilled and educated. Today, recent arrivals are nearly twice as likely as those who came three decades ago to have a college degree, and many go into high-paying fields such as science, engineering, medicine and finance. This evolution has been spurred by changes in U.S. immigration policies and labor markets; by political liberalization and economic growth in the sending countries; and by the forces of globalization in an ever-more digitally interconnected world.

On the basis of the evidence so far, this immigrant generation has set a bar of success that will be a challenge for the next generation to surpass. Not surprisingly, when it comes to language fluency, there are significant differences between the native- and foreign-born adults. Only about half (53 percent) of the foreign born say they speak English very well, compared with 95 percent of the U.S. born.

The Asian-American label itself doesn't hold much sway with Asian Americans. Only 19 percent say they most often describe themselves as Asian American or Asian. A majority (62 percent) says they most often describe themselves by their country of origin (Chinese or Chinese American; Vietnamese or Vietnamese American), while just 14 percent say they most often simply call themselves American. Among U.S.-born Asians, 28 percent most often call themselves American.

In these identity preferences, Asian Americans are similar to Hispanics, who also are more likely to identify themselves using their country of origin than to identify as a Hispanic or as an American.

Some 43 percent say Asian Americans are more successful than other racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S., 45 percent say they are about as successful, and just 5 percent say they are less successful. Native-born and foreign-born Asian Americans have similar views about their group's success relative to other minorities. Members of the nation's other large immigrant group – Hispanics – are less than half as likely as Asian Americans to say their group is more successful than other minorities.

With new generations of U.S. born Latinos and Asians, assimilation continues to be challenging, but respecting and incorporating the best of new cultures and cuisines is at the heart of the American experience.

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