Saying ‘Si’ to Sweets
By Elizabeth Brewster
Latin treats move into the mainstream as large and mid-sized players tap into this growth segment.
Candy makers are sweetening the pot for both Hispanic and non-Hispanic consumers with a new wave of confections catering to both tastes.
While major non-Hispanic players like Hershey and Masterfoods are increasingly reaching out to Hispanic consumers, Latin giant Montes is looking to cross over into mainstream U.S. distribution channels with its popular Mexican candies. And Sonrics, another major player in Mexico, is rolling out an extensive product line for U.S. consumers. In addition, smaller U.S. confectioners are launching their own versions of Latin-inspired treats sparked by exotic spicy and fruit flavors.
“The Hispanic market is growing four times faster than the total population. It’s so broad and far-reaching that . . . I don’t think you can miss [by marketing to Hispanic consumers],” says Joan Buyce, public relations manager for Masterfoods USA in Hackettstown, N.J.
In fact, the 39 million U.S. Hispanics now make up 13% of the total population, and that’s by far the biggest ethnic segment in the country. Two-thirds of this population is Mexican, with others from Central America, South America and the Caribbean, according to New American Dimensions, a Los Angeles-based ethnic marketing company.
Hispanic Candy Penetration in Los Angeles 2004
Candy Category Overall Population Non-Hispanic Households Hispanic Households
Total candy92.596.085.1
Non-chocolate74.578.964.9
Chocolate78.385.562.9
Chocolate-special46.752.933.5
Chocolate-miniatures47.957.327.9
Lollipops23.321.627.1
Breath sweeteners26.830.119.6
Source: ACNielsen Homescan Los Angeles Hispanic Panel 2004 report
Numbers like those were part of the reason Hershey Foods Corp. in Hershey, Pa., scooped up Mexico-based Grupo Lorena last fall. The $30 million company heats up the spicy candy market in Mexico with its Pelon Pelo Rico brand, a soft tamarind candy that consumers push out of its container with a plunger, designed to look like hair coming out of a character’s head.
“The acquisition of Lorena by Hershey brings additional distribution opportunities for both companies’ product lines,” says Octavio Flores, business manager for the Lorena product line and Hispanic independent channels at Hershey. “Lorena’s Hispanic trade channels have now added Hershey’s traditional products, while some of Hershey’s traditional channels are now enjoying some of Lorena’s products, including Pelon Pelo Rico.”
Thalia partnership
Hershey is also creating its own products and flavors specifically targeted to the U.S. Latino community, particularly the Dulceria Thalia line launched last fall as part of a multiyear partnership with Mexican singer and actress Thalia Sodi. The new line includes dulce de leche Kisses, chocolate cookie mix miniatures, and Jolly Rancher lollipops in both tropical fruit and hot and spicy flavors. The newest Dulceria offering, rolled out in February 2005, is Cajeta Elegancita, a chocolate-covered bar of crispy wafer sticks layered with cajeta flavoring (the Mexican version of the caramel flavor that’s called dulce de leche in most Latin countries).  
Another hot new Latin-flavored product is Masterfoods’ new Salsagheti, launched in February under its Mexico-based Lucas brand, acquired in 2001. A huge hit in Mexico, where it was introduced in August 2003, Salsagheti combines hot chile-coated watermelon candy straws with a pouch of Lucas Gusano tamarind sauce for consumers to pour on top.
“Interactive candies are a big trend [in Mexican confections],” says Masterfoods’ Buyce. “Squeezable liquid candy, lollipops, candy paste and these types of products make it really fun for consumers.”
Winning flavor trio
Most of the Lucas products marketed in the United States incorporate a combination of three popular Hispanic flavors: chile, tamarind and chamoy (apricot), says Buyce. By sticking with flavors that Hispanic consumers associate specifically with their culture, she adds, the products appeal to traditional Latin values of maintaining strong family and community ties.
The Sonrics lineup includes plenty of flavor pairings. The Rockaleta Lollipop has alternate chile layers with a mango gum center and Rockaleta Dark is a lollipop with alternate chile layers and a tamarind center.
Although spicy and tropical fruit flavors are most commonly associated with Hispanic candies, milk-based products are rapidly coming into their own, says Carlos Nava, president of Montes USA in Irving, Texas, the U.S. division of the Mexico-based candy company.
“We are really pushing and having a lot of success with our milk-based product lines,” says Nava. “Hispanics, like the general population, recognize dairy products as something that’s nutritious and good for you. And with [both Hispanic and non-Hispanic] mothers purchasing candies for the household, the option to buy something healthier is certainly a good thing.”
Montes USA has added a milk caramel lollipop to its U.S. product line, along with milk-based toffees in three flavors: pecan, coconut, and coffee. This year, the company is also debuting a U.S. caramel candy filled with guava, a fruit flavor that Nava says has lots of potential for crossover appeal to the non-Hispanic market.
“One of our big goals for 2005 is to start capitalizing on some of our crossover opportunities,” he says. “We think Montes is uniquely positioned, because we don’t necessarily specialize in the more exotic flavors like chile and tamarind. If you took the wrappers off [our candies], you wouldn’t be able to tell what country they were from.”
While Nava says that Montes is likely to head into the mainstream market with bilingual packaging, other U.S. up-and-comers favor marketing to both groups with separate packaging as a means of asserting their heritage. San Diego-based Chargers Candy Co. has just begun shipping its new Chili + Lime gum to non-Hispanic markets in its distinctive battery-shaped tin, with English-language packaging. For the Hispanic market, vice president Daphne Nissanoff Gerendash says the gum will hit store shelves in a Spanish-language peg bag.
Positioned for value
“The American market is all about convenience and interesting packaging,” she says. “The Hispanic market is more about value. Our packaging is tailored very specifically for each market.”  
The Chargers Chili + Lime gum—which Nissanoff Gerendash says is the first sour-spicy bubble gum on the market—taps into the growing influence of Hispanic flavors on American palates, and also caters to traditional Latin tastes. “Americans have developed a very nice taste for the Hispanic flavor profile,” she says. “We felt the timing was right to hit the American market and the Hispanic market simultaneously.”