Hispanic community offers niche meat marketing opportunities

Staff report

IRVING, Texas: Lydia Villanueva is a community development specialist in Hereford, Texas, who learned that the best way to get to her Hispanic community's heart was through its stomach.

A second generation Mexican-American, she was married to a man who loved to cook and who hoped to eventually open his own food catering service. He has been cooking for their parish Catholic church which feeds between 200 and 300 parishioners each Sunday morning.

She said that Anglo ranchers needed to realize that their local Hispanic community could be good customers for the very cuts and parts of the animal that are the most difficult for them to sell. For example, particularly prized are the whole head of the cow, the intestines, the stomach lining, the udder, sweet breads (glands), the leg bones and the hooves.

"Hispanic culture is a waste not, want not culture. We eat everything."

Menudo is a Mexican favorite made from the stomach lining and the foot of the cow including the hooves. The cow's foot is slowly cooked along with the stomach lining until the hooves dissolve and the meat sluffs off. The bone is then removed.

She said fajitas are the primary cut used for grilling. This is from the interior skirt meat of the hide.

"There is no such thing in Hispanic culture as a chicken fajita."

Hispanics tend to use slowly cooked beef tips and chunks more than grilled steak cuts. Ground meat is also very popular and not just for tacos.

SOME MEAT WITH EACH MEAL

She said Hispanics like to eat some meat with each meal even if it is just a small amount mixed in with potatoes and vegetables. This is the reason for the preference for tips, chunks and ground beef.

The less tender meat cuts are frequently sun-dried and salted into something similar to jerky. These are then mixed with eggs for breakfast.

Tamales are increasingly being made with beef by Hispanics in the USA but whole hog's head is the traditional meat used. She said pork lard was preferred for cooking and was absolutely essential to making a good tamale. She said that Hereford was now 65 percent Hispanic and that new Hispanic communities were being established all across the country. No matter if the country of origin is Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala or the Honduras, the cuts of meats desired are largely the same.

"The primary difference in the foods of each country is in the spices and peppers used, she said.

She said the one commonality of all Hispanic groups was that they didn't throw any of the animal away - including the blood. For this reason many Hispanics prefer to buy smaller animals such as chickens, goats and sheep alive rather than already processed.

Villanueva said that there are a lot of regional differences in cooking within Mexico itself. For example, in the Jalisco region a meat taco is made with a grilled, thinly sliced steak cut rather than ground beef.

Summer tends to be the grilling season whereas meat in winter is used primarily for soups. The tail of the beef animal is highly sought in the winter for soup making.

A popular group meal is cow intestines. These are cooked in a wok style cooker.

(In rural areas, the disc blade of a plow is used.)

STRONG FLAVORED MEATS PREFERRED

In the Mexican south, the preferred slaughter animal is an old, intact bull due to its very strong flavor.

Juan Barrigan, a grassfed beef producer from Monterey, Mexico, explained that southern cattle buyers came to his area to buy spent bulls for this market each winter. He said it was very important to these buyers that the animal still have its testicles as they believe this greatly improves the flavor of the meat.

A party meal in northern Mexico is a ground cooked whole head of a cow. Barrigan said that the tongue, cheeks and eyeballs were particularly prized.

He said another favorite was grilled bone marrow. In his region, the forearm bone of the cow was cut into three inch strips and cooked on the grill similar to steak. Once the bone marrow becomes soft it is spread on bread like butter for eating.

Villanueva said urban Hispanics can be good customers for pastured eggs and for the hens that produced them when their time is up.

Rabbits are another Hispanic favorite. These are cooked either in an oven or by frying. Sheep tend to be eaten primarily in the Mexico City area and grass fed is definitely preferred. In fact, Mexican consumers far prefer the taste of a grass fed cull ewe to a grainfed American lamb and import thousands of cull ewes from the USA each year.

Goat is primarily eaten at Easter and during the summer grilling season. Cabrito is the meat of a kid harvested at weaning and is so expensive only the upper class can afford it. The working classes use the older, less costly goats.

HISPANICS DON'T BUY FOOD FROM STRANGERS

Villanueva said the cultural tradition keeps traditional foods alive even among second and third generation immigrants.

She said the biggest hurdle Anglo marketers would face early on was that Hispanics don't like to buy food from strangers.

"Trust is very important. You must first build a relationship and that takes time.

"However, it is worth the effort because if you can get one Mexican in your community to be your customer, he'll bring you all the rest. The best advertising in the Hispanic community is word-of-mouth. The best advertising for your meat is to let people taste it. Providing meat for a church festival is an excellent way to do this.

"As a marketer, it is important that you understand the Catholic world and its calender of festivals and events. You can't sell any meat during Lent but when Easter comes - be ready!"

Another way to get exposure is to sell to local Hispanic restaurants. In large cities there are Hispanic-oriented weekend flea markets that offer an ideal place to sell your meats.

These flea markets are not what you typically think of in the USA. They are closer to the "mercado" concept where food, clothes, jewelry and other Hispanic targeted items are sold.

Villenueva said the working class Hispanic market was not a premium priced market but one where you could certainly get lots of customers at reasonable prices by catering to their special needs. "Immigrants of whatever nationality who don't understand English are under a lot of stress due to language difficulties. This makes comfort food very important to them. They want to be here but they also want a little of what they left behind."

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