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Cities of Opportunity

Hispanic culture and tastes create hotspots of growth
Cities of Opportunity

It’s well known the Hispanic population of the United States is rising. According to Forbes magazine, Hispanics currently make up 17 percent of the U.S. population and this number is expected to hit 24 percent by 2040. In July of this year, the Los Angeles Times reported Hispanics had officially gained majority status in California, outnumbering all other segments of the population at 14.99 million. And while much of this increase is concentrated around large, multicultural hubs like Los Angeles, New York, Miami, and Chicago, some might be surprised to learn other areas in Florida, as well as Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Washington have become hotspots of Hispanic growth.

This shift in population and its resulting cultural enrichment have provided a broad range of business opportunities across the country and even into parts of Canada—especially for those in the food industry, particularly fresh produce. We take a look at this unprecedented growth, starting on the West Coast and traveling eastward.

Washington’s Twins: Seattle & Tacoma
Although there is considerable growth in the Southeast, there are a few standouts along the West Coast and outside of California, including the Seattle and Tacoma areas of Washington. Global information firm Nielsen reports over 108 percent growth in this designated marketing area (DMA) among Hispanics from 2000 to 2013. These changes can also be seen in the evolution of the many celebrations held annually in the region, including the popular Fiestas Patrias, Dia de los Muertos, and Hispanic Seafair Festival.

While only 3.1 percent of businesses in Tacoma and 2.5 percent of businesses in Seattle were Hispanic-owned as of 2007, James Schlatter of Jimmy’s Produce, LLC in Tacoma says more than half of his business is selling to Hispanic grocery stores and restaurants. He sells steady quantities of chiles, tomatillos, guavas, and even hibiscus flowers, on both a wholesale and retail basis (he operates his own store).

The Seattle/Tacoma area is host not only to two busy ports, but the Seattle Terminal Food Market. Schlatter credits plenty of jobs as drawing Hispanics to the area. “Probably ten years ago, it was mainly concentrated in Eastern Washington.” But over the last two decades, he explains, while agriculture may have been the original draw bringing people into the region for harvests, many stayed, starting families, and segueing into other jobs such as building and construction, or opening small stores or neighborhood bodegas.

Schlatter’s most popular commodities include tomatillos, jalapenos, avocados, and a number of different chile peppers, as well as oranges, bananas, and mangos. “We pretty much have everything year-round now. I sell a lot of limes—you never really run out of limes, but the market can swing like crazy at times and Mexico can be the only place to get them.” The market can be especially fickle when it comes to jicama, he notes, and mentions, “there’s always something you don’t know about—aloe vera leaves are a big thing now, mainly used for medicinal purposes. You’ve always got to keep your ear to the ground.”