(April 26) The fifth of May is not just another day. It’s a national holiday that commemorates the outnumbered Mexican army’s victory over a polished French army in the Batalla de Puebla in 1862.

Whether or not your customers are Hispanic, Cinco de Mayo is an excuse to throw a party.

Scott Schuette, produce manager at one of the nine AJ’s Fine Foods, Chandler, Ariz., says the store doesn’t have a large Hispanic clientele, but it does have many shoppers who look for a reason to celebrate.

Supplies of Hispanic items are abundant this time of year, too.

“The category as a whole spikes up about 20 percent to 25 percent in the month of April through two weeks after Cinco de Mayo,” says Robert Schueller, assistant marketing director for Melissa’s/World Var-iety Produce, Los Angeles.

COMMAND ATTENTION

Take advantage of this increased availability and build attractive displays that entice consumers who are not typical buyers. The food media and television cooking shows are introducing mainstream consumers to Hispanic recipes.

“It gets people excited about going to the stores, finding the ingredients and doing this at home for their own little Cinco do Mayo party,” Schueller says.

He recommends retailers start promoting Cinco de Mayo with point-of-purchase materials such as brochures, recipe cards and demonstrations at least two weeks before the holiday. Tristan Millar, director of marketing and business development for Frieda’s Inc., Los Alamitos, Calif., says some retailers start building their Cinco de Mayo displays as early as three months in advance.

Millar says retailers should place the Cinco de Mayo display near the front of the store to attract shoppers as they walk in the door. To make it stand out, use traditional Mexican colors like green, red and white.

AJ’s has two 4- by 6-foot end displays of tomatoes, avocados, cilantro and chili peppers that capture the attention of shoppers who walk between them, Schuette says. Sales increase at least 10 percent between the avocados, bean dip and other items the store promotes for Cinco de Mayo, he says.

When Buy For Less in Oklahoma City lowers the price of Hispanic products for Cinco de Mayo, movement usually doubles, says Jim Atkinson, produce manager and ethnic produce buyer for one of the nine stores in the group. The store displays anaheim, banana, poblano and serrano peppers, jicama, avocados, tomatoes, pinto beans and black beans, he says. Eighty piñatas are placed in the store year-round for decoration.

CATER TO HISPANICS

While some non-Hispanic consumers celebrate Cinco de Mayo, focus on Hispanic customers who tend to cook from scratch.

Melissa’s suggests building massive displays of items like baby bananas, fresh chili peppers, jicama, tomatillos and avocados whenever possible because Hispanic consumers seek freshness, quality and variety when shopping for produce.

Include a variety of pack sizes since many Hispanics prepare meals for large families, while many mainstream Americans prepare meals for smaller ones.

Get Hispanics to shop other areas of your produce department by placing items like jicama slices, cilantro, fresh salsa, cut mango, papaya and pineapple in fruit and salad bars, Schueller says.

Advertise to Hispanics. Buy For Less advertises in Spanish and buys ads in local Hispanic newspapers, Atkinson says. The store uses an intercom announcing specials in English and Spanish, too.

GAIN YEAR-ROUND CUSTOMERS

Cinco de Mayo promotions provide an opportunity to introduce customers to specialty items that they might continue to buy throughout the year.
Millar says many people use corn husks as wrappers. Display them next to dried chili peppers and give shoppers the idea of using them for tamales throughout the year. And don’t forget the sugar cane. Millar says these can be used as swizzle sticks for tropical drinks.

AJ’s introduces new varieties of chili peppers during its Cinco de Mayo promotions, like red fresno and pasilla peppers, because many customers are willing to experiment with specialty chili peppers, Schuette says.

Consider promoting trendy salsa varieties in your Cinco de Mayo displays, too. Many salsas are homemade with roasted garlic or fruit. Be sure to include cloves of fresh garlic, mangos, tomatoes, red onions, limes, fresh dill, kiwifruit and tangerines in salsa promotions.

A GROUP PROJECT

At AJ’s, the produce, meat, deli and bakery departments take part in promoting the holiday.

“What helped our promotion was having the departments in the store geared up for Cinco de Mayo,” Schuette says. The more the whole store gets involved in the celebration, the easier it is for the customer to become involved in celebrating, he says.

Cross-merchandise tortilla chips next to salsa ingredients like tomatoes, onions and peppers. Promote a party theme and have margarita mix and salt displayed near limes and Mexican beer next to lemons.

Frank Castrovillari, produce manager for the independent Presidential Market Inc., Chicago, says the store offers fajita spice that comes in a shaker. Unique products like this can increase sales of bell peppers, chili peppers and onions.

INCREASE AWARENESS

Offer demos to increase impulse sales and convert customers into loyal Hispanic produce buyers. Melissa’s suggests slicing jicama into sticks and serving them with bottled dressing. Ripe manzano, burro and red bananas and cherimoyas also are good products to sample.

Schuette says AJ’s performs guacamole demos using envelopes of dry guacamole mix. The store offers the packets in mild and hot varieties. Store-made fliers and posters placed near the front entrance advertise the guacamole and salsa demos, he says. AJ’s also places POP materials, like laminated recipes for fresh salsa and guacamole, throughout the department and gives shoppers recipes to take home.

AFTER THE PARTY

When the fiesta has ended, keep sales of Hispanic products up with consistent promotions.

Schuette says AJ’s performs demos of Hispanic items throughout the year. A few months ago, the store had too many ripe avocados and instead of tossing them out, it did a demo for fresh guacamole on the spur of the moment and ended up generating new sales.

Schueller says the idea behind promoting Cinco de Mayo is to influence other cultures. He adds that consumers need to know that they can find the same products two weeks after the promotion is over.

Make sure to promote Hispanic produce at other times of the year, too, like Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Father’s Day, the Fourth of July and Mexican Independence Day.