MBPT Spotlight: Restaurant Chains Making Strides in Reaching Hispanic Customers

The U.S. Hispanic population is growing exponentially compared to non-Hispanics. This growth, along with the brand-friendly behaviors of the Hispanic consumer — like choosing chains (75% Hispanics vs. 62% non-Hispanic) and dining out with kids more often (40% of the time vs. 29% for non-Hispanics) — has had a positive impact on the restaurant industry.

In fact, in 2014, Hispanics’ per capita visits to restaurants and other foodservice outlets increased by 4% compared to a 1% percent decline in visits by non-Hispanics, according to data from NPD’s CREST Hispanic information service which tracks consumer foodservice usage.

Trailblazing restaurant chains are recognizing and engaging with this growing and influential customer base in relevant and thoughtful ways.

For this reason, Univision Communications Inc. has partnered with the NPD Group on a new initiative, the Restaurant Trailblazers, recognizing the restaurant brands that are winning with Hispanics and setting the stage for best practices.

The first-ever Trailblazer honorees were selected based on NPD research, 2014 Hispanic campaigns and executions, and other efforts targeting the Hispanic consumer segment in the last year. Some of the honorees include Papa John’s, Denny’s, Sonic and Jack in the Box, and span across categories like Digital Trailblazer, Product Innovation and Share Shifter of the Year.

Papa John’s, the quick service pizza chain with 4,600 units in 34 countries around the world, began its Hispanic marketing efforts in 2006 by expanding its 24/7 online ordering capabilities to include a Spanish-language website. In 2014 the chain shifted more of the marketing focus to Hispanic consumers by growing its Spanish-language TV spend to 13% of its total. Papa John’s now has a consistent presence on national and local Spanish-language TV.

The brand’s investment in marketing to Hispanic customers has paid off.  Hispanic sales in 2014 grew 43%, traffic rose 18%, average eater checks went up $1.50 and items per eater moved from 2.07 to 2.25, according to data from CREST Hispanic.

“We put a Spanish-language strategy in place, but the message hasn’t had to change,” said Papa John’s CEO, John Schnatter, at a recent restaurant industry conference. “Papa John’s goal of bringing family and friends together resonates with Hispanics, who are very focused on getting together with family. Similarly, it wasn’t necessary to change any of our menu items; we just needed to communicate to Hispanics in a way they understood in order to build their confidence in the Papa John’s brand.”

Denny’s, a 1,600-unit family dining chain, implemented a simple Hispanic marketing strategy last year: stay true to the brand’s “America’s Diner” positioning and make it relevant to Hispanic consumers, who represent one out of every four Denny’s customers. That has meant Hispanic “touches” on the Denny’s menu, like chipotle and avocado flavors as well as bilingual messages.

It has also meant working with personalities like “The Dog Whisperer,” Cesar Millan. In 2014 Denny’s grew its Spanish-language TV budget more than 40%, doubled down on digital strategies and built strong social media connections. It launched Denny’s Latino on Facebook, which serves up original and curated content including quizzes, exclusive sweepstakes and heads-up communications about new menu offerings.

The Denny’s Latino site is promoted across the chain’s Spanish-language website, broadcast and digital ads on sites like U-Videos and YouTube. To promote the site’s launch, Denny’s also created a Hispanic-targeted, comical, “Red White and Blue,” Grand Slam rap video.

Product innovation is the approach Sonic, the quick service drive-in chain with 3,500 locations throughout the U.S., took to reach Hispanics. Last year Sonic added 25 slushees to its “Summer of Shakes” promotion. The chain zeroed in on Hispanic-relevant flavors, like Jalapeño Chocolate and Salted Caramel and promoted them heavily via Hispanic primetime TV favorites.

Executions included branded spots featuring beloved on-air personality Don Francisco during his show Sabado Gigante, the longest-running U.S. talk/variety show on air today. Sonic also understood Hispanics over index in alternate dayparts at quick service restaurants and promoted shake and slushee deals during its afternoon Happy Hour and after 8 p.m. Sonic’s message to Hispanics? We have all the flavors you want, whenever you want them.

Jack in the Box, which operates over 2,200 restaurants in 21 states, has its roots wholeheartedly in the West, where nearly 50% of its consumers are Hispanic. Because of this, the quick service restaurant chain realized early on how important Hispanic consumers are to its business and made them a vital — and consistent — part of its menu, messaging and outreach strategies.

In 2014 innovations included breakfast all day, the Hella-peño Burger, which was stuffed with jalapeno, cheese and taco sauce, and the Grande Sausage Burrito. Jack in the Box has also mastered the art and science of creating cultural connections with Hispanics via the content they love.

Jack in the Box has been a strong supporter of Hispanic-focused events including last year’s Fiestas Patrias (Patriotic Holidays) and Cinco de Mayo. The chain has also partnered with Hispanic America’s number-one morning show, Despierta America, to promote the Hella-peño Burger through integrations across the show’s local windows.

Whether it’s because of product innovations, clever marketing strategies, message consistency, digital offerings or a combination of these and more, these restaurant chains are growing their businesses with Hispanics and paving a path that smart brands will follow.