Most major grocery stores have long offered ingredients for Hispanic cooking, but Food Lion is going far beyond the standard tortillas and refried beans.
The Salisbury-based grocer is testing a new store format in five Raleigh-area stores to tap into the estimated $34 billion Hispanics will spend this year.
Aisles are lined with an abundance of beans, rice, masa mixes and fruit-flavored juices that are favorites of Hispanic households.
The produce section is filled with a dozen varieties of peppers, from banana to serranos.
And the frozen food department now holds frozen plantains, tamales, empanadas and sofrito.
With Hispanic spending projected to increase to $52 billion by 2015, the new format makes sense. But the test is only one of a series of efforts Food Lion has made to rejuvenate its stores as it faces new competition from Aldi and Trader Joe's and continued expansion of existing competitors.
This summer, the chain introduced new packaging for 1,200 store-brand items and added a nutritional guideline labeling system in all of its stores.
Fernand de Boer, an analyst who follows Food Lion's parent company, Delhaize Group, said the chain had to be more ambitious.
“In the past, Food Lion was about price, but now they have morphed their image a little bit,” he said.
Trying new things may be necessary for the company to continue to see revenue increase.
Delhaize's U.S. sales rose by 4.2 percent from 2005 to 2006 and by 5.2 percent from 2006 to 2007.
In the company's most recent quarter, which was reported last week, net profits were up 81 percent because of a lower-than-expected tax rate.
Yet the company did not alter its guidance for the fiscal year, which it cut last month, blaming slowing consumer spending.
The Triangle was selected for the newest initiative because of its growing Hispanic population – up 90.5 percent from 2000 to 2007 in Durham, Johnston, Orange and Wake counties, according to census figures.
The five stores were selected because of their high concentrations of Hispanic shoppers.
Along with a wider selection, Food Lion tried to think of the needs of Hispanic kitchens, said spokeswoman Karen Peterson.
For instance, the meat section features thinner cuts and more lamb, both used in Hispanic cooking.
Customers may recognize brand names such as Goya that have made their way into mainstream cooking. But other brands, such as Bimbo and Guerrero, are more typically found in Hispanic ethnic markets, which have also been increasing.
Raleigh resident Mary Posadas, who is originally from Honduras, said she usually shops at the ethnic market Compare Foods. On Tuesday, she stopped at the Food Lion on Capital Boulevard in Raleigh for soda and was surprised by the variety of Hispanic products there.
“I can see the cheese I use from here,” she said, standing by the meat cases. “Now that I can see it here, I can say there's no more problem. I will come more often.”
The grocer also has added more Spanish-speaking employees and offered training on Hispanic culture, shopping habits and the Spanish language to employees in the test stores.
Signs are in English, and many aisles look the same as in other stores.
If the stores prove successful, Food Lion could expand the format to more stores, Peterson said. She declined to say how many stores might be remodeled.