how the world sees america

Migrant Longing for Bimbo Bread

Bimbo-Still.jpg

MEXICO CITY - Let's call it de-Bimbofication -- the process by which, over successive generations, Mexican Americans lose their nostalgia for Bimbo-brand-breads and start buying American brands instead. This phenomenon is one of the many challenges facing Daniel Servijte, CEO of Bimbo, the largest bread company in Mexico, as he tries to expand to American, and especially Mexican American consumers.

Daniel sees the gradual process of Mexican American assimilation, coupled with mounting anti-immigrant sentiment, a U.S. recession, and renewed emphasis on border controls as drags on his consumer base's readiness to go for Bimbo bread.

Take, for example, Daniel's recent experience in Texas, where he drove around in an unmarked white van between small Mexican marts asking consumers and vendors about their intake habits. After a few hours, word got out these mysterious vans were from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and then every mart he pulled up to next would evacuate immediately, illegal Mexicans sprinting out the door before him.

Both the natural trend toward assimilating, and losing nostalgia or the tastes of home, along with added pressures facing Mexican Americans dull their eagerness to purchase Bimbo-brand-bread.

So what does Bimbo do? It buys up American brands to reach new consumers, facing new challenges reaching targeted consumers and merging corporate cultures.

As Xerox is to copying machines in the U.S., Bimbo is to bread in Mexico. Bimbo (so named because it sounds like the Disney cartoon Bambi, with no reference to unintelligent buxom women) achieved dominance in the Mexican bread market by sending trucks into the smallest rural villages. Legendary businessman Lorenzo Servijte, founder of Bimbo, used to travel via helicopter over Mexico's distant terrains with a satellite pin-pointer. When he saw villages, he marked the coordinates, and ordered his squadron of gleaming white Bimbo trucks with smiling bears painted on their sides to find them with tons of bread in tow (Bimbo now has twice as many times trucks as Mexico has police cars).

But in the U.S., just as de-Bimbofication occurs, so too does the gradual distribution of Mexican Americans out of enclaves, he notes. Small and mom-and-pop marts shot down as supermarkets boom. So Bimbo must develop new distribution channels that allow for it to expand as its Mexican American consumer base spreads over the generations.

Daniel-Servijte.jpg

Finally, there is the issue of merging corporate cultures. Trying to put it diplomatically, Daniel says: A Mexican company buying an American company is seen in the U.S. much like Guatemalan company buying a Mexican one would be here.

American businesspeople aren't very attune to Mexico's corporate culture, Daniel says, reading its improvisational quality as a sign of disorganization. Daniel was educated in Stanford Business School, but learned business first hand from his father driving trucks into villages. So Daniel's seen both America's "football" style of business -- huddle, strategize, execute -- with Mexico's "soccer" style -- run, improvise, and shoot, shoot.

This clash plays out in egos, and adaption. For example, Daniel is now reaching out to the Chinese, and he was shocked to find they spoke Spanish when their American counterparts used translators, and were willing to adapt more readily to the American model. It's not about geographical proximity, he says, it's about being willing to see eye to eye.

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Comments (22)

ro anaya:

hello, just a reminder, in mexico, bimbo is the maker of wonder brand bread as well as the brand bimbo, in usa, they have the bimbo and marinela bread for the mexican american comunity, but also for the rest of the market they have other brands, with other brand which names do not remind us of a ......

Amar C. Bakshi:

Hi Ali, One of the questions I asked Servijte was why Mexico and China, whose diet is based on corn and rice respectively need bread, and his answer was, essentially, they grow to want it.

On the Alan Alda point; so true. I didn't make the connection till I just googled the name.

Ali:

Interesting article and a great exposure of how cross cultural rifts can cause misunderstandings.

And Mr. Bimbo Bread Co. is a victim of that as well...the original Chinese diet is very weak on eating bread...although it might be Americanized!

Amar C. Bakshi:

Hey all, I'm writing write now about migration. I haven't posted in a while - was in Hidalgo and now in Oaxaca, but got some good stuff on NAFTA, drugs, cartoons, and Lucha Libre fighting I want to write up! But I just saw this and wondered what you thought: http://edition.cnn.com/2008/TECH/02/13/virtual.fence.ap/index.html

Vic van Meter:

I keep trying to bring up a serious point about cross-border capitalism. But good God, that name is hilarious!

It would be different if "bimbo" had some other use in the American version of English, but the only other use is to describe an inept man as opposed to simply an inept woman.

So it would be simple enough for Bimbo Bread to market in another name for its American branch if they'd like to expand into America. I've never had it, but I hear it's delicious.

Understand, it's simply hard to take it in any way seriously. But as our population slowly becomes more and more Hispanic (and that will certainly happen) it may become less and less hilarious.

thekind78:

Hot dog, that guy looks Hawkeye circa 1973.

Roy - Chiapas, Mexico:

In a vocabulary test in my English class a student wrote that the word "Wonder" means competition to Bimbo. I had to mark it correct. Mexicans are amused when I translate the English meaning of Bimbo to them. By the way, it is very good bread. You can buy loaves in different sizes, too.

Nym, at sea:


I'm a white American dude, and I've had Bimbo bread and like it. I don't think of stupid blonds when I see it either. If anything when I do think of that I'm happy to see something taking the energy out of use as a derogatory descriptive term.

The problem with the perceptions of Latin Americans by too many in the US is one of poverty and illiteracy in English. Meanwhile they have no clue how narrow their perspective is, or what a small slice of things they're basing their entire perspective on.

Personally, I look at the region as being the rest of America, and the place where there is still American frontier. The people there are more like me than not, and an awful lot of them are into some pretty interesting stuff in both business and culture.

Anti-immigration US citizens need to ask themselves why it is that so many of their fellow citizens who have land on the border don't want the government building fences everywhere.

It would be good if we start asking ourselves rational questions instead of caving into the will of a shrieking minority. Especially given that minority holds values that the rest of us strongly reject.

Cipitio:

To Pappi:

Just a correction: Fútbol games are not decided by shootout all the time, only in finals and semis.

Ties are a good thing. Sometimes, neither team really deserves to win or lose. Both gave their best on the field, so the score is tied. Perfectly OK.

Regarding the 'Bimbo' dilemma. I remember many years ago a US car company tried to market the 'Nova' in Mexico and failed. The reason 'Nova' means 'doesn't go' in Spanish. It's simple, just rebrand 'Bimbo' into something your US consumers will buy, and if the product is good, it will be successful here too.

ChuckB:

Really, a company that is serious about exporting a product should ensure its name has no or a positive meaning in the language of the importing country. Latinos used to laugh about Chevy selling Novas in their countries as it translated to "it doesn't go." Well, that example of bone headed marketing is pretty trivial compared with using "Bimbo" as a product name in in English speaking countries; it isn't as offensive as Jane Fonda blurting out c^&t on live TV, but it comes close. I am sorry, but I can't help but convulse with laughter whenever I see a Bimbo truck pass by. Choose another name for the English speaking markets before complaining about loss of market share; also, along with losing your Latino customers, you probably aren't going to be successful picking up many new native English speaking customers. And Latinos say we are pig headed chauvinists.

pappy:

Staying with the football anology:
"Wining isn't everything, it's the only thing"
Vince Lombardi
Football is a constant fight for donmination, soccer is played for a tie, then a shoot out.

Mike:

Just to be clear: that dude does look like Alan Alda.

Whizbang, Greenville SC:

I have seen the Bimbo products at my local Walmart for years. It's not on the bread isle, but in a separate Hispanic Products Display near the Dairy section.

While the first siting brought a smile over the name, I realized that this must provide a touch of home to it's target purchaser.

I'd even be willing to try Bimbo breads, except the pricing is much higher than the alternatives.

After all, bread is bread and cash is money!

Best of luck to Bimbo Bakeries USA.

A Venezuelan:

to Chris Brown

Chavez IS destroying the economy becuase he is destroying the essence of growth: CONFIDENCE. What you put as "Venezuela's economy is not so bad with Chavez", I would say it's "not so bad DESPITE Chavez." Chavez has handled more money than the last 6 Venezuelan presidents COMBINED (Central Bank figures), and the result doesn't apear in books: there are shortages in milk, chicken, rice, sugar and more. There is a huge housing deficit. Insecurity is at it's worst in Venezuelan history (homicides per year). Chavez paid off Argentina's debt while increasing Venezuelan foreign debt. We should not owe anyone anything. He spends millions on Bolivia, Cuba and Nicaragua, which they will NEVER pay back. There are too many indicators to mention. What the report you mention shows is the result of a restricted economic system in which Venzuelans ARE NOT FREE TO PURCHASE GOODS ABROAD because there is a currency exchange control that only allows Venezuelans (only those with credit-cards) to spend a small fixed quota a year max and going through a government scan first. If Chavez lets go of the exchange control, MILLIONS of local Venezuelan currency would be changed into dollars or euros because Venezulans that can save, DO NOT TRUST CHAVEZ AND HIS HANDLING OF THE ECONOMY. Industry is stagnated. Since Chavez considers the STREET VENDORS as employed, unemployment figures dont show the over 50% true unemployment that exists. That's the difference between seeing numbers in a report, and living the true numbers. CHAVEZ IS DESTROYING THE VENEZUELAN ECONOMY EVEN THOUGH OIL PRICES ARE FEEDING HIM MILLIONS.

Venezuela is like those movies in which a person has to spend $50,000,000 in one day to claim an inheritance. Chavez is trying SO HARD to bring "capitalism" down in this country, but the cold hard cash he is receiving doesn't let him. He has support because he has money to pay for it. Take the oil money from Chavez, and even his hummer-driving brother (Minister of Education), his rich-rancher father (Governor of Barinas State) and his whole nepotist government will abandon him.

Emigration to México:

I'm a Venezuelan... it might be interesting to point out that quite a few wealthy Venezuelans have chosen Monterrey as their life destination. I know one family that moved there about 5 years ago. They are very happy there. They don't have to see Hugo Chavez's face on every building on their way to work. They don't have to worry about the "Chavez revolutionaries" taking over their well-earned clothing business, and they get to Vail, Colorado a lot faster than from Caracas.

The wealthy and educated Mexicans stay in Mexico (why leave?), while the opposite is hapening in Venezuela. Why? A president (Hugo Chavez)that attacks anyone that has a car and a home (except his buddies, who drive Hummers), while wealthy mexicans have no need to leave, and the poor do (greens). Another thing, for illegal Mexicans to get to the US, they don't need to buy a plane ticket.

So, while most Americans think that all mexicans want to live in the US, many of the best (educated, productive, decent) latinamericans are moving to México.... and Miami.

Roger:

I saw the Bimbo trucks when I went to Venezuela. I remember asking my uncle "wow, do they deliver them here?" I had no idea what was inside that truck. He later bought a loaf. I was a teenager, so the idea of spreading butter on a bread called Bimbo just gave me a laugh every morning. I truly thought they did it on purpose. I hope they make it in the US, despite the name.

ghostcommander:

Ethno centrism never works. Not in marketing a foreign product or in the occupation of a country-IRAQ.

Bad article Amar:

I'm sure you found the brand "bimbo" very funny while traveling around in Mexico. So funny of course that you decided to share the humor and write up a boring article about it. One of my friends from work also got a kick out of the brand name while on a trip to Central America, and had his wife stand next to a bill board so he could get a cutesy picture. Now that picture has turned into a ridiculous screensaver on his work computer. At any rate, while your down in those parts, why don't you spend the time to enlighten us "dumb" Americans on something more valuable, and delve into the depth that many of the metropolitan Mexican youth exhibit in places like Monetery or Guadalajara.

CAM:

I am just waiting to see the first anti capitalist freak insulting the Servijte family with some anti imperialist slur.
My sincere admiration for Mexican enterprises that were able to surge in such a difficult environment and are now focusing in the international market (well Bimbo has years executing successfully in Latin America). CEMEX is another remarkable company.
But some people in Latin America don´t realize the importance of private enterprise. Sometimes they get to be elected and their stupid ideas poison everything (Chavez and the destruction of Venezuelan Economy).

corgy:

in case the bimbo people are reading, i do buy food from other countries, but the name bimbo just doesn't inspire in me trust.

corgy:

haha, yes he does.

well, first of all, change the name to something americans can understand. i mean, we understand bimbo,but not like they want us to understand it. we understand "Wonder" and "Pepperidge Farm" and "Arnold Brick Oven."

we see "bimbo" on the Walmart shelves, and we think Brittany Spears with no undies and we move on, trying to get rid of the gagging feeling in our throats.

Lucas Westmaas:

Wow, that guy looks a lot like Alan Alda, doesn't he?

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