Crossing Over the Color Line

Today, one of my readers from Atlanta commented on my post “Assi vs. H-Mart: Which is Better?” asking, why don’t the Asian mega-superstores like Assi or H-Mart offer cooking classes/demos in English in order to get people to buy more of their fresh vegetables, meats, and fish?

Short answer—blame it on the short-sightedness (?) of their marketing department.

When Assi and H-Mart selected their locations, they focused on areas that are highly-concentrated with Koreans. Their core consumer group is the Korean community, with everyone else falling in after. Here in Chicago, the Chinese have Diho Market, the Japanese have Mitsuwa, but the Koreans didn’t have anything large-scale until Assi and H-Mart came along. Assi and HMart have easily and readily been adopted by the Asian communities and quite a number of Hispanics, but the mainstream white population haven’t hopped on board. And why is that?

At the risk of ruffling some feathers, I’d like to propose that it has something to do with the color line. If you go to Assi or HMart at any given day, you’ll see that most of the people there are Asian, more specifically, Korean. A non-Asian would generally go to Assi/HMart if they had a craving for Asian food or would like to check out something a bit more exotic and different from their usual American grocery store experience.

Human nature is to stick with the familiar. I’d be the first to admit—I prefer shopping in places I feel familiar with, where I know the layout of the store, and know that I’ll get what I’d need. Sometimes going to a new place for the first time is the hardest step. I think the majority of Americans are content with just going to their nearby Safeway, Kroger, Piggly Wiggly, Jewels, Dominicks, Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and what have you. They have everything they need right there. And, might I add, the majority of Americans would rather just go directly to the source (the ethnic restaurant) than to try cooking it themselves.

So in answer to that reader’s question, why aren’t there cooking demos in English at HMart or Assi? The marketing folks at HMart and Assi probably don’t see a reason of hosting cooking demos in English because their core audience isn’t English-speaking.

But wouldn’t it be nice if they did offer some cooking classes in English to reach out to other markets? Or, at least have a bunch of recipe sheets in English that people can pick up to try on their own. I can think of a number of people who’d love to learn how to make different Korean dishes from scratch.

Then I thought to myself—this might be a great business idea for me—to be a food consultant to H-Mart or Assi and help them expand into non-Asian communities. I’d start by leading food tours to the stores, pointing out all the reasons why one might consider going there, as well as identifying some key ingredients in Asian cooking and their locations, so people will know where to go the next time they come. And once or twice a month I might host a cooking demo featuring a quick and easy dish that one might prepare. Something to consider…

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One thought on “Crossing Over the Color Line

  1. I think that is such a great business idea! I love shopping at Asian and Indian markets, but truthfully, am not always comfortable doing it unless someone introduces me to the place. Once inside, though, I find such stores playlands of ideas… and I always want to grab interesting stuff and figure out how to use it later. (So I’d totally be game for the demos, too.)

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