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Publix takes a Hispanic flavor

Publix Super Markets, Florida's leading grocery chain, is responding to the state's growing diversity by launching a Hispanic foods house brand this year.

The product rollout planned for the first quarter will offer items such as frozen plantains and mojo marinade in a move company officials hope will give the store an edge over its competitors.

The Lakeland chain, ranked in the top 10 among grocery retailers, is one of the first in the Southeast to launch a private-label for ethnic food. The new line, to be offered at all stores, will compete against more established brands like Goya Foods and Badia, but at a lower price, spokeswoman Maria Rodamis said.

Private label products typically offer savings of 10 to 30 percent compared to national brands, she said.

A Palmetto company is also part of the recipe. Jonathan Greenlaw, who owns the Palmetto Canning Co., will make and bottle Publix's mojo marinade at his plant, where he bottles marinades for Goya, the nation's largest Hispanic-owned food company.

Publix executives believe the new line will boost sales, not just to the 3.1-million potential Hispanic customers in Florida.

"It's a misnomer that only Hispanics are enjoying Hispanic food," Rodamis said. "We're out there to raise awareness and make the food that they enjoy eating out in restaurants."

Puerto Rico-born Lynette Miralla of Bradenton is excited about seeing more variety on the shelves and more savings. She is tired of jumping from store to store to get the things she needs to make her family's traditional dishes.

"We are always looking for a bargain," she said. "When you find something you really like, it doesn't matter the brand; you stick to it."

Industry experts said private labels are a great way for stores to solidify their customer bases.

"They're looking for areas that they can differentiate themselves, and store brands are one way they can set themselves apart from the competitor who is selling brands like Goya _ brands that everyone else has," said Dane Twining of the Private Label Manufacturer's Association.