Market Economy

Hispanic supermarkets growing in appeal, forcing traditional grocers to adjust

Queso. Postres. Frutas. Verduras. Perusing the shelves of La Bonita Supermarket is almost like getting a lesson in Hispanic cooking. La Bonita, which has four locations in Las Vegas, is one of several Hispanic-owned supermarket chains that has expanded to cater to the Valley’s large Hispanic population.

As the number of Hispanic residents in Clark County approaches one-third of the general population, ethnic grocery stores also continue to gain traction, particularly in neighborhoods where the Hispanic population is high. The supermarkets attract shoppers with low prices on fresh produce and a variety of popular prepared meats, such as chorizo, carne asada and menudo ingredients.

La Bonita, which began as a small carniceria on Eastern and Ogden avenues in 1989, is now planning to open its fifth location in Las Vegas by the end of the year. Armando Martinez, general manager of La Bonita and son of its founders, Jaime and Sylvia Martinez, says the chain has been able to expand due to its “faithful customer base,” which has stood by the grocer during tough times.

“We have felt the recession, obviously,” Martinez says. “Our clientele is Hispanic, and they’ve been hit hard here in Las Vegas because of the construction-based economy. This year has been harder than other years, but we’re starting to see life again. We’re starting to see people come back; their spending habits are changing again.”

The recession is slowly drawing to a close, but the rivalry between La Bonita and its fellow Hispanic grocery chains has intensified. Homegrown stores such as La Bonita and Mariana’s Supermarkets face increasing competition from Southern California markets such as King Ranch—now with five locations in Las Vegas—and Cardenas Markets, which recently opened a second location on Eastern Avenue and Bonanza Road and is looking to open a third store in North Las Vegas, according to Otto Merida, president and CEO of the Latin Chamber of Commerce.

“The competition is ferocious,” Merida says. “You have stores competing against each other, and by competing against each other they are offering better prices and also better products. That’s why this country is great.”

Hispanic supermarkets are also competing against mainstream grocery chains such as Food 4 Less and Wal-Mart, which offer a variety of Hispanic food items and beverages. Smith’s Food & Drug locations are also beginning to diversify their food offerings in the Valley, with items such as cactus leaves and Central American cheeses. The chain also has created a Smith’s Mercado store in New Mexico that it may bring to Las Vegas in the future, according to Marsha Gilford, Smith’s vice president of public affairs.

“I never understood why the major supermarkets years ago didn’t realize what a niche was there that should have been filled by them—but not by putting an aisle or two … of Hispanic products,” Merida says. “They should have opened their own stores or perhaps another brand to be able to appeal to the market that was growing tremendously, especially in Southern California and the Southwest. They didn’t do it.”

Although mainstream grocery stores are beginning to jockey for a share of the Hispanic market, Martinez says the outlook for La Bonita is bright.

“We always pride ourselves on good quality meats, produce and good service,” Martinez says. “Our slogan has always been: ‘High in quality, low in price.’

I think we’ve been able to retain our customers because of that.”

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Neon Green

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