Cargill's Rumba brand is relaunched with a focus on the Hispanic market.

Traditional Salsa dancing requires committed partners who are passionate about the rhythm and meaning of the music and are able to unite in a spirited celebration of culture through dance unlike any other style. The evolution of Cargill’s Rumba Meats, in many key ways, has taken a page from the book of Salsa dancing. Matching the right partners to the perfect music in a festive venue celebrates a history and a culture that is coveted by millions in the US.

Initially launched in 2007 to target multi-cultural consumers, Rumba had limited success in appealing to a market niche that was significantly fragmented. The offerings of variety meats to a wide variety of ethnic groups saw limited success and soon, the rhythm of the growth mimicked a slow dance. But marketing officials and brand managers with Cargill’s Rumba brand have taken a new position and approach that promises to turn that tip-toeing, low murmur of popularity into a roaring, boot stomping, skirt-spinning campaign focused on celebration, food and family. Cargill began turning up the volume this past October, with the relaunch of the Rumba brand, this time focused on the lucrative and growing Hispanic market in the US, and with a dedicated marketing and promotions team led by Carolina Tabares in the newly created position of senior brand manager for the product line. She admits that part of the brand’s backsliding growth was identifying its target. The audience for the product line initially included a wider swath of ethnic groups, from Hispanics to Asians to African Americans.

“Before it was too much,” Tabares says of the multicultural approach, but now the company’s decision is focusing Rumba’s brand of variety meats solely on the Hispanic market. The strategy now is “gain product loyalty with one particular group, instead of trying to be too many things to everybody,” she says.

Armed with market research that, among other things, concludes the population of Hispanics in the US is nearly 20 percent and represents a segment with purchasing power of $1.7 trillion in 2017, Tabares and her team have unveiled a new packaging and ethnic-minded color scheme for the product line along with a festive logo, a dancing lady moniker and tagline: “¡Celebremos el sabor de la familia!” which translates to “Celebrate the flavor of family!”

Between the 2007 rollout and the 2016 relaunch, the market approach of Cargill’s other product brands played a part in the waning popularity of Rumba. The Rumba product line was, at times, overshadowed by marketing some of Cargill’s higher-profile foodservice and retail beef brands, including Sterling Silver and Rancher’s Reserve.

“We had a brand for many years but we lost the direction and the vision,” says Tabares, a 14-year veteran of Cargill who was born and raised in Colombia, South America.

She has a successful track record working with Cargill’s marketers to promote and grow its mainstream lines of pork and beef, “but I’m also Hispanic,” she says, “so I have the industry knowledge and the cultural insight for this role.”

Once she was challenged to take Rumba to the next level she jumped at the opportunity.

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Rumba products include cheekmeat, oxtail, beef feet, flank steak and flanken short ribs just to name a few.

Quantifying opportunity

Back in 2007, there was general acknowledgement that the Hispanic population was growing and becoming a prominent consumer group. Soon the brand was faced with more competition in the category few food companies were ignoring. Meanwhile, there wasn’t an abundance of data and research backing up that sentiment and no clear marketing path for Rumba. Since then, Cargill has invested significantly in taking a deep dive into the Hispanic market. The broad conclusion of the research was that Hispanic consumers seeking to buy variety meats for ethnically traditional meals typically must go to as many as four food stores per month to find the meat they want. Mainstream grocery stores and chain supermarkets are usually casualties as Hispanic shoppers are forced to go to specialty stores or carnicerías. According to 2016 research commissioned by Cargill, an overwhelming majority of Hispanic shoppers said they would shop at a store if it carried beef variety meats and an even larger percentage said they prefer to buy variety meats at the same location where they purchase the rest of their groceries. Based on the research, Cargill announced plans to take the revamped Rumba brand nationwide, “aiming to help retailers better serve Hispanic consumers, in turn having them shop in fewer stores for longer periods of time.”

With national distribution at 30-plus retailers and distributors, Tabares says there are efforts to connect the voice of Hispanic consumers with Rumba Meats in an authentic manner, by partnering with brand ambassadors who have established credibility with that market while supporting retailers with educational support for meat department employees. Marketing efforts for Rumba also included launching a Facebook page, creating a dedicated website, investing in digital banner ads, Pandora Internet radio ads and providing retail point-of-sale elements. The use of vibrant colors that correlate with Hispanic culture, including red, blue, yellow and green was an important part of the revamp as well as establishing partnerships with market influencers, including bloggers.
Cargill recently hosted its Rumba Influencer Meet Up and Cooking Experience, bringing together Brand Ambassadors Mely Martinez (left) and Sonia Brennan.

Blog jam

Now residing in Waverly, New York, Sonia Brennan was born in Los Angeles, but most of her family lives in Monterrey, Mexico. She wasn’t exactly tech savvy in 2011 when she purchased her first PC, initially to stay in contact with her family and spread the word about her other passion, cooking and sharing traditional recipes with her family. What started as a family-focused endeavor has mushroomed. Today, she is a respected food blogger and social media influencer with more than 7,200 Facebook “likes” and 5,000 Instagram followers who can’t wait for her to post her next recipe. Marketing officials with Rumba Meats, a subsidiary of Wichita-based Cargill, realized Brennan and other Hispanic-cuisine focused foodies were onto something.

Websites like Hispanic Kitchen ( provide a venue where many Hispanics come to share their families’ recipes and participate in a virtual community where exchanging cooking techniques and tips to create authentic dishes flourish. After posting some stories and recipes on the site and receiving a flood of responses, Brennan realized she was onto something and in 2013 started her blog. “It became a real job,” she said.

Mely Martinez came to the US about 10 years ago from her homeland of Tampico, Tamaulipas, Mexico, where her fondest memories are of cooking with her family in the kitchen. Now living in Frisco, Texas, Martinez started blogging in 2008 after coming to the US to ensure the history of her family’s recipes would be preserved for her son and for the generations to come. As it turns out, interest in the recipes in her blog stretched well beyond her family and the borders of Texas as her online recipe and story postings have created a following that includes nearly 40,000 Facebook likes and more than 15,000 Instagram followers.

The popularity of Martinez and Brennan and the broader community of Hispanics that are actively and passionately engaged in preserving their culture, including the important role of food, has quietly become a social media sensation. Both of them are now Rumba Meats Brand Ambassadors. When they recommend Rumba Meats as ingredients in their recipes, their endorsement is trumpeted to tens of thousands of followers who are loyal to them and follow every instruction to the letter. It’s in lockstep with Rumba’s marketing plan to appeal to an influential ethnic group that is here to stay.

Having corresponded and followed each other online for years, Tabares coordinated and documented an in-person meeting of the two bloggers near Dallas during the 2017 Annual Meat Conference. The duo spent hours cooking together, laughing, sharing stories about food, families and their happiness that Rumba is bringing variety meats to a growing number of mainstream supermarkets.

Tabares says the main goal is to educate the retailers in mainstream markets about the opportunity for selling variety meats. This can be done with the point-of-sale material as well as by training the meat department workers.

“We are telling them, ‘We can be your expert; we can tell you what these people like because they are coming to your stores and shopping your Hispanic aisle but not stopping in the meat department,’” opting instead for buying meat at a local ethnic market.

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Cargill's Rumba Meats has partnered with food bloggers Mely Martinez (left) and Sonia Brennan (right) as part of a relaunch of the Hispanic-focused product line led by Cargill's Carolina Tabares (center).
Many retailers are of the mindset of trying to figure out how to sell more meat when, in many cases, the answer to that question can be found with the Hispanic customers who are already roaming their aisles, but not dancing through their meat departments. For retailers already carrying variety meats, Tabares says calling attention to the products is critical and the reason for the bright colors and the “dancing lady” image.

“I want to make the connection that Rumba means ‘party,’” Tabares says. “We love bright colors – that is part of our culture. We love to eat and we love to have fun,” she adds.

Brennan recalls when she first found Rumba’s vacuum-packed honeycomb tripe in a small market in New York and hesitated to buy it. She had bad memories of a previous experience when she purchased tripe from a carnecería to use in a menudo recipe handed down from her mother. Even though she thought the odor of the tripe seemed wrong, she made it anyway. “It was terrible and I had to throw it all away,” she says, and she was discouraged.

Upon seeing the Rumba product months later, she was tempted to try the recipe again. “It looked so clean. I opened it and there was no odor whatsoever, so I tried it. This was the way I remember my mom’s menudo. I’ve cooked it many times since then using Rumba product,” she says. “That sold me.”

Brennan was approached to be an ambassador for Rumba when she was informed the brand was bringing beef cheek and beef tongue to a market in her area – two cuts she hadn’t eaten since she was a child when she helped her mother clean them with vinegar and lemon. Because they are cleaned at the plant, eliminating that step made the preparation easier and the taste more authentic.

“Being able to introduce foods that you grew up with is what inspires you,” Brennan says.

Martinez says finding Rumba products in a growing number of markets is encouraging, pointing out that in preparation for meeting Brennan as part of what Rumba coined the “Rumba Influencer Meet Up and Cooking Experience,” she found marrow bones at a Kroger store in a Dallas suburb. The marrow was used to make an authentic beef stew, just one of many dishes the duo created together while cameras flashed and video footage was taken as part of the marketing of Rumba’s star bloggers.

“When you go to a supermarket sometimes you don’t know how long that meat has been there,” and shoppers at some Latin stores are left to sniff out unsavory cuts of meat.

“You don’t feel comfortable buying that meat,” she says.

When Martinez had the opportunity, she was happy to be a partner, with Rumba knowing the product is consistent and safe. Part of the Rumba quality proposition is ensuring shelf life and eye appeal using a spiral chilling process with a dwell time of 45 minutes to achieve a product temperature of 35° F, which preserves freshness and eliminates odor.

“Meat is the main part that brings flavor to the dish,” she says. “And it has to be fresh.”