Approaching the Latinos in craft beer quandary is complicated and when I first approached the subject I thought it was solely a matter of education, I was totally off the mark. Three year ago I wrote Craft Cerveza: The Quandary of Latinos and Beer, in that post I took a more historical perspective on the issue and chalked much up to the divide of Murica vs Latino Murica to our respective histories. In it I failed to address the recent demographic of patrons, the millennials, which don’t necessarily fall prey to the historical/culture dilemma. Most are second and third generations of Latinos, some are mixed with other cultures and don’t have to scale that wall of cultural tradition. Today I update my understanding of why more Latinos aren’t drinking craft beer and give you a third-generation Latino’s perspective from the Millennial generation.
Every time I go to a family event at my grandmother’s house in Newark, NJ, where I grew up, I make sure I stop at a beer store in my current neighborhood for craft beer. I know that the neighborhood spots like Gigante Liquors or Valdez Liquors aren’t going to have anything I’d pay for, nor drink. Don’t get me wrong there’s plenty of Corona, Heineken, Coors Light and Bud Light that’s just not what I would spend my money on. You might find a Sam Adams beer but outside of that good luck finding anything of quality.
Latino neighborhoods lack the access to quality craft beer because local liquor stores do not stock craft beer. Patrons won’t buy it because they know nothing about it, all they see is a six pack of Coors Light for $7 and a six pack of craft beer at $12 for the same thing, beer.
Latino markets aren’t buying craft beer en masse, so the demand to stock these beers on shelves doesn’t exist, I get that! They aren’t buying it because they don’t see the value in it nor know anything about it other than the price tag. The owners and managers of these shops don’t know much about these beers either, so a proper education to both patrons and owners needs to be part of the marketing strategy to break into the Latino segment.
In the 1980’s and early 90’s there was a big push to market malt liquor to the African American community. Breweries took popular cultural icons and used them in their marketing plans, you saw ads from Wu-Tang marketing St. Ides, Ice Cube and St. Ides or this classic Schlitz Kool and the Gang vs The Platters. I know that most small craft breweries don’t have budgets to pay for commercials, I get that, but the big guys do. Yes I’m talking to you Sam Adams, Magic Hat, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium! Not enough money for commercials? Sponsor a community event, like a float during yesterdays Dominican Day Parade or the Puerto Rican Day Parade a few months ago in New York City. Sponsor an inner city community development organization or help them with a project like inner city farming, maybe even throw a few hop plants in the mix. Even at the basic level, where are your reps at the local bodega giving out samples? I know in my more affluent neighborhood, I can walk in to the local wine shop at least twice a week, find free samples and have educational conversations with brewery reps.
Education of craft beer needs to play in concert with any marketing push. Associations like the Brewers Association, should be looked to for communal education around craft beer. One of their tenets is “Educating brewers and consumers about the diversity, flavor and quality of beer” so the breweries should be leaning more on their association to live up to their promise.
In the Latino community beer has to overcome a stigma of negativity, one that mainly revolves the perception of beer as a hindrance to personal progress. Beer is still stigmatized as a means to get drunk, do stupid things and stop our progress of becoming a responsible adult and living the American Dream. Coonery, if you will, that keeps Latinos down and doesn’t allow them to live successful, fruitful and meaningful lives. We in the craft beer scene know that we drink for its flavor/quality and yes because it gets us happy too. That dual approach to beer that elevates it from its lowly stigma of an obstacle to a symbol of status and education.
As a Latino kid raised in the inner city of Newark, NJ I can only tell you what I see through my lens. Breaking into the Latino market requires a lot more involvement than what this 850 word post can cover but I hope that I was able to dip my big toe in the water and get you thinking. I just hope the right people read this and start this conversation.