When former Fox executive Emiliano Saccone first launched Latin food and lifestyle site Cocina in 2017, audience development took precedence over monetization.
“We had to do two things at the start that were not easy to do simultaneously,” said Saccone. He co-founded Cocina with celebrity chef Aarón Sánchez, who now serves as its creative director and “chief chef officer.”
“The first is to be authentic to the Hispanic community, which is incredibly diverse,” he said. “And the second is to lower the barrier of entry so that our content is accessible to non-Latinos interested in Latino cuisine and culture.”
This ambition to serve the Hispanic community and non-Latinos factored into Cocina’s decision to produce content in the English language rather than in Spanish. Second-generation Latinos in the US are often bilingual. But they’re also in the midst of a “shift in mindset,” Saccone said.
Over the past 10 years, Hispanic millennials have been embracing not just the fact they have a Latino background, Saccone said. They “were suddenly proud and exploring all aspects of their culture, including food – but they wanted to do it with a modern spin.”
Today, Cocina reaches roughly 3.5 million people in the US on a monthly basis. In addition to direct sales and programmatic, it’s pairing content and commerce – like selling its own chimichurri sauce, which Saccone is betting will become “the next sriracha” crossover food hit.
Saccone spoke with AdExchanger about appealing to a young audience, first-party data and what the growing popularity of chimichurri means for Cocina’s budding commerce business.
AdExchanger: Why launch Cocina?
EMILIANO SACCONE: I’m originally from Argentina, but I’ve been based in California for the last three decades. Over that time, including working at Fox and launching paid TV networks in the US for the Hispanic community, I saw both the massive demographic growth and the beginnings of Hispanic marketing as we know it today.
And so I put a couple of things together. What connects all people? Other than music, the answer is food. But I realized no one was talking about Latin food in an aggregated way or as a destination that uses the lens of all Latin cuisines as an entry point to explore the Latin lifestyle as a whole.
How diverse is Cocina’s audience?
Our audience tends to be younger Gen Y and millennials. Roughly half are of Latin origin and half are non-Latinos. This is proving a point I learned from music, especially Latin music. There have been so many crossovers over the years. Ricky Martin is a good example.
And now the same thing is happening with food. Just look at Aarón [Sánchez]. He’s America’s Latino chef. He’s well known in the mainstream, but if you asked a Latino what they think of him, they’d say he’s legit, authentic.
Does Cocina have a first-party data strategy?
Content is our biggest asset, and we don’t post arbitrarily. We do research about what will resonate with our audience. Over time we’ve gained a lot of insights to do with when and how our content is consumed that can be useful to our brand partners.
Through our own platform and by having our pixel on more than 1,200 publisher sites [via Hispanic mobile ad network Adsmovil], we track frequency, language, type of content and time spent to define Hispanic users. We then distribute the profiles into three buckets: unacculturated, acculturated and bilingual Hispanics.
We combine data, such as apps installed, ad engagement and content consumed, with our own data to enrich how we address our audience and to ensure message efficiency for our brand partners. We also have a creative agency and boutique where we work with brands directly. We recently did work for Lexus during Hispanic Heritage Month.
How do you monetize?
When we launched, we had modest ambitions in terms of monetization. First, we had to build the Cocina story. We chose social media for obvious reasons. We do programmatic.
Now we are on the next phase, and that’s a transactional relationship with the people that consume our content.
So, the combination of commerce and content. A lot of publishers are trying their hand at that now.
We’re working to try and crack the code for what turns a Cocina reader into a Cocina customer. Commerce is one of our core priorities. We’re getting inspiration from players like BuzzFeed, but there is no one single solution or strategy to achieve this goal.
We’re early on in this process. If I’m being honest, I’d say ask me about this four or five years down the line. But the opportunity is there. Right now, we’re using content to create a destination, and the plan is to make this destination into a marketplace.
But Cocina is already selling a few products, like hot sauce, coffee, jewelry and tote bags, through a section on your site called The Shop. Are those affiliate relationships?
We don’t do affiliate just yet. The Shop is still in the testing process. The question we're asking ourselves now is “Which products should we sell?” We do a lot of research and use some of the same software that large CPG companies use to make decisions about what product or flavor to launch next. We’re using the software to get an idea of which Latino flavors are increasingly becoming more popular.
What have you learned?
Typically, ingredients go through a four-year cycle of growth and awareness. If, by year four, something is still growing, it will very likely become mainstream. Although not a Latin sauce, sriracha is a good example of this phenomenon.
Our idea is to identify Latin flavors that don’t have much penetration with the US population at large but are clearly showing signs of adoption. We match that with our own intent and behavior data tied to our recipe content. If there’s an overlap, we realize we have something.
Can you share an example?
Recently, we did a test of chimichurri sauce. If you look at the data on chimichurri as it relates to consumption in the US, at best it’s known by 7% or 8% of the population. But just a few years ago, it was known to barely 1% of the population, which means the growth has been tremendous.
We flew back to Argentina, found what we think is the world’s best chimichurri and imported a few thousand units to sell under the Natal name, which is Cocina’s own food brand.
The chimichurri we brought back sold out in hours.
When you’re selling online, scarcity is a fantastic strategy. We accomplished a few things with this. Not only did we sell out of the product; we had an opportunity to acquaint people with other products available in The Shop. The total ticket price increased because people were buying other items in addition to the chimichurri.
I’m telling you that sometime in the next four years, chimichurri will become the next sriracha sauce – and so we want to plant our flag beforehand.
This interview has been edited and condensed.