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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For the first time, racial and ethnic minorities make up more than half the children born in the U.S., reports the Huffington Post/Associated Press. And a headline earlier this year predicted collective minorities would become the majority in the U.S. as early as 2040 – although more recent studies are pushing that date back as immigration has slowed, probably due to the weak economy.

Nevertheless, Hispanics and Asians, in particular, are forces to be reckoned with – and marketed to. Every food & beverage processor that wants to be around in 2040, or maybe even 2020, is creating strategies to appeal to these groups.

The annual growth rates for Hispanics, who make up 16.7 percent of our population, and Asians, who represent 4.8 percent, fell sharply last year to about 2.2 percent, roughly half the rates in 2000. The growth rate of Blacks, who comprise about 12.3 percent of the population, stayed flat at 1 percent, as did that of Caucasians.

So, despite some slowing, the nation's minority population continues to rise, following a higher-than-expected Hispanic count in the 2010 census. Minorities increased 1.9 percent to 114.1 million, or 36.6 percent of the total U.S. population, boosted by earlier waves of immigration of young families and Hispanic women in their prime childbearing years. With relatively high fertility rates – seven births for every death – the median age of U.S. Hispanics is 27.6 years compared to 42 for whites.

Hispanics are not a monolithic group

The danger – for marketers and for stories like this one – is to imply that you can market to a unified demographic called "Hispanics." The Hispanic population in America hails from some 24 Latin American countries – all but Portuguese-speaking Brazil. And even that connected group is a diversity of cultures. Some demographers include European Spanish in this category. Change the term to Latino and you can include Brazil and Portugal. Despite that warning, we will continue to address them collectively as Hispanics in this article.

First of all, Hispanic or Latino? Answer: They either don't care or don't care for either. Nearly four decades after the U.S. government mandated the use of those terms to categorize Americans who trace their roots to Spanish-speaking countries, a new Pew Hispanic Center study of 1,220 U.S. Latino adults finds that most respondents don't care if they are called Hispanic or Latino. Of those that do care, Hispanic is preferred by 33 percent, versus 14 percent who prefer Latino.

Fifty-one percent of those surveyed say they use their family's country of origin to describe their identity. That includes such terms as "Mexican" or "Cuban" or "Dominican."  Twenty-four percent say they use the terms Hispanic or Latino, and 21 percent say they use American most often.

The study found. U.S.-born Hispanics (who now make up 48 percent of Hispanic adults) express a stronger sense of affinity with other Americans and America than do immigrant Hispanics. The survey finds that 38 percent of all respondents are Spanish language-dominant, 38 percent are bilingual and 24 percent are English-dominant. Among U.S.-born Hispanics, 51 percent are English-dominant.

Race is another tricky issue. Most Hispanics don't see themselves fitting into the U.S. Census Bureau standard racial categories. When it comes to race, 51 of Latinos identify their race as "some other race" or "Hispanic/Latino." Meanwhile, 36 percent identify their race as white, and 3 percent say their race is black.

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