I thought I had the makings of a perfect Desert Droppings post.
Da dum da dum da dum. Da da da da dum da dum.
I’d start with a little “Mexican Hat Dance” beat to get us in the spirit, then move on to poke fun at my neighborhood Smith’s supermarket (part of the Cincinnati based Kroger Corp., the nation’s second largest supermarket enterprise.)
Imagine a bleak January day in Cincinnati as background for a meeting of the Kroger marketing division seeking to increase profits at the NM Smith’s chain.
The brainstorming begins.
“How about a foreign food festival?”
“Hmmm…foreign…like “world flavors.”
“Foods from Greece, France, Sweden, maybe?”
“No,” pipes up a new hire with a fresh MBA, recalling the sun-drenched vacation she took in Cancun. “Mexico!”
(Now, the poking fun part.)
And – without glancing at a map or pondering the wisdom of Mexico as a source of “worldly foods” for New Mexicans, especially in ABQ where folks of Mexican descent abound and there’s a Mexican restaurant on every corner; where Smith’s shelves are routinely stocked with dozens of “Hispanic” items and Mexican fruits and vegetables fill the produce aisles year ’round; Kroger’s marketing team went ahead and devised for Smith’s a three-week “Savor World Flavor-A Taste of Mexico” extravaganza.
How funny is this?! It’s New Mexico, guys! Mexican food is so every day here. If you want to tempt Smith’s shoppers with exotic flavors from far-off lands try Swedish meatballs or Manhattan Deli mmmmmm whitefish salad…
Ha! Ha! Mexico! You’re barking up the wrong burrito!
That’s how my post was supposed to go, until, driven by curiosity to experience up close Smith’s Flavor Fiesta Festivities, I grabbed my shopping list and joined the fun. And it was about as fun as supermarket shopping gets.
Outside the store, a Smith’s staffer sold grilled “Mexican Street Corn.”
Inside, signs, banners, flags, and balloons carried the “Taste of Mexico” logo into various departments. Sampling stations offered guacamole,fish tacos, and layered caramel cake.
Shoppers were invited to spin a wheel and win coupons for cupcakes, marinated fajita meat, tortilla chips, and fresh pineapple. Special displays highlighted an array of products including Kroger Chili Hot Beans, Mexican soda, Cajeta Quemada (goat milk caramel spread), Mole sauce, spicy cheese, Mexican cookies, and “Fiesta” cakes iced in Mexican-flag shades of red, yellow, green, and orange.
It all looked very bright and tempting. I started filling my cart with items that had never been on my list- Dulce de Leche cupcakes, a new brand of guacamole, a bottle of Kroger Picante sauce.
Then OLE! It dawned on me! Kroger really did know their Churros from their chipotle. This “Taste of Mexico” promotion at Smith’s was no comical concoction of a clueless Midwestern marketing group, it was a deliberately designed test market effort disguised as a world flavor fest. Kroger wanted to know if shoppers in ABQ and other NM cities would savor and buy the Harvarti Chipotle cheese from Wisconsin, the dulce de leche sweets from Canada? Would they use Kroger frozen chicken breasts in their Tinga de Pollo and serve up some of the dozen types of salsa in their salsa bowls (made in China, of course)?
Bottom line – if these items prove to be bueno enough for ABQ, they’ll probably sell in Cleveland or Kentucky and wherever else Kroger’s group of supermarkets are found. No wonder Kroger’s quarterly sales rose more than expected.
Fresh baked Churros, anyone?
Still, I have to add that there is one dark corner of this light-hearted foray into food retailing.
While Smith’s “Taste of Mexico” thing has been going on, the news media have been reporting disturbing accounts of the thousands of families and unaccompanied children “migrating” across the US-Mexican border, only to find harsh conditions awaiting them in ill- equipped, over-crowded US government detention facilities. Even now, VP Biden is busily spreading the word in Central America that the US is not open to these “huddled masses.”
But, consider, for a moment, this jarring scenario (which is well within the realm of possibility):
A group of newly arrived and as yet unapprehended migrant children wander into a Smith’s supermarket which is colorfully engaged in its “Taste of Mexico” merriment. The checkout cashiers are wearing sombreros and bright green t-shirts that say, “Delicioso!” Signs are in Spanish and festive cut paper flags flutter above displays of familiar foods.
What are the young migrants to think but that, “It’s true! The Americanos love us! They really love us! We’ve made it!”
No, ninos, you haven’t made it at all. While Americans welcome and promote products and produce (as long as there’s a profit to be made) from across the border, the tired, the poor, etc,from south of the Rio Grande are as unwelcome as flies on fajitas. Sad to say, you are the victims of the mother of all mixed messages. Mole and melons, si. Migrants, no.
Will the US ever find a humane solution to the distressing plight of the migrants and others who are undocumented? Not soon enough.
When it comes to creativity, collaboration, and competent planning, our government has a lot to learn from Kroger and Smith’s.