Decade of individuality; food marketers in the ’90s will be challenged to pinpoint consumer demand

Decade of individuality; food marketers in the ’90s will be challenged to pinpoint consumer demand – News & Trends

Ellen Dexheimer

Do your own thing.

This theme, which took root in the 60s, will be in full bloom in the 90s. It will dictate the choices consumers make and why they make them.

From a marketing perspective, consumers in the 90s will be placing demands on food manufacturers like never before. Consumer individuality will challenge marketers more than ever to target the right products to the right consumers.

Who are the consumers of the 90s? For starters, the consumer population is growing more heterogeneous, says Edward Flesch, director of SRI International’s Values and Lifestyles (VALS) Program. There is increasing ethnic and racial diversity and greater regionalism, compounded by the fact that people are seeking individual lifestyles that are “right for them.” As a result, the proverbial one size is not going to fit all. Food manufacturers will need to make their products available in more sizes, flavors, colors and features.

Bill Gorman, president of Gorman Publishing Co., in his speech at the Gorman Conference on New Products in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., last fall, called this trend “Individualization of lifestyle. We will be marketed to as individuals with unique needs, tastes, desires, abilities … all of which will be known to marketers,” he said.

Nancy Byal, executive food editor, Better Homes & Gardens magazine, elaborates: “I think there are times when an individual will respond to individual marketing and other times when he or she will respond to mass marketing. A person’s stage in life affects his or her choices, as does where he is, what he is doing, who he is with, etc.”

Mona Doyle, marketing specialist and editor of 7he Shopper Report, agrees. “We will see a continuation of health, more portability, more on-the-go, more individuality. I think people will have much more freedom to do their own thing tastewise. You’ll have various levels of international, health, and spiciness. Whatever you do is OK.” Convenience brings consumers home Consumers will continue to follow the fast track in the 90s, sources say. They will be time-poor and strongly in need of convenience products to fit their individual lifestyles. Those searching for easy, economical meals will benefit from individual marketing.

Food manufacturers will “come after me and what I use as a consumer,” says Doyle. People will treat me as a more important customer,” she says. Doyle believes restaurants have suffered because eating at home is becoming more hassle-free and faster. Individually packaged servings will become more popular in single households, as will microwaveable foods and takeout foods.

For multi-person households, quick and easy cooking will dominate in the 90s. According to a recent “New Traditional Homemaker” survey conducted by the American Frozen Food Institute, part of the reason families need convenient foods is because 62 percent of children under the age of 13 prepare one or more meals on their own each week. Mothers cited frozen foods and microwaves as the most helpful tools for encouraging children to prepare nutritious snacks and meals.

In the 90s, consumers may have microwaves not only in their kitchens, Doyle predicts, but also in family rooms and bedrooms to heat snacks and beverages. As a result, microwaveable foods must be healthful, and taste is critical.

In a 1988 survey conducted by Better Homes & Gardens, respondents gave the following reasons for using more convenience foods:

a Quality of convenience foods has improved;

n Want to spend more time on things other than cooking;

a Think some convenience foods are as good as I can make them;

n Family’s activities do not allow members to eat together.

Another survey, conducted by Food Marketing Institute and Better Homes & Gardens, determined that a large share of the people surveyed are still eating their meals at home, not only because they feel it is to the benefit of the family to do so, but because foods now available make meal preparation easy. Survey respondents said meals that continue to be at-home favorites are those foods that are easy to pre – are, especially during the week, like hamburgers or pasta (See chart, this page). In his speech, Gorman called this forecast for the 90s, “The Return Home.” He predicted that far more consumers will spend far more time at home, working there, playing there, and shopping there.

Likewise, some source antic pate that computers willsignificantly increase home-shopping and home delivery. However, grocery shopping through a computer may not emerge as a common practice until those children who actually grew up with computers become adults and begin to do their own shopping. Doyle suggests that fax machines and telephone orders will catch on more quickly than computers, primarily because few consumers own home computers. Catch-22 According to Byal, “the environment issue in the’90s will be like nutrition was in the 80s.” The attention now being paid to the environment by government, industry, the media, and of course, consumers, is not a flash in the pan, says SRI International’s Flesch. Increasing awareness of, and concern for, environmental issues such as waste disposal and maintaining water and air quality, is resulting in a greater willingness to change consumption patterns. Already, according to respondents to a VALS Leading Edge study, about onefifth of the sample claimed they have stopped using products that they believe harm the environment.

Doyle says more environmentally green” packaging could create a conflict for marketers, because at the same time, Tolerance for packages that people can’t open is wearing thin. There will be no tolerance for packages that require a tool or another person to open,” she says.

So on one hand, consumers are saying they need the convenience of individual packages, which creates more waste. On the other hand, there is the environment to consider.

In early March, a member of Congress and several environmental groups accused four food processors of adding to the nation’s waste disposal problems because their products’ packaging increased waste. The companies, which included Quaker Oats Co., General Foods Corp., Campbell Soup Co. and Sandoz Nutrition, defended their packaging methods, saying consumers enjoy the convenience they provide. Healthy foods are here to stay The trend toward more healthful eating is a permanent one, as more consumers accept the relationship between food and health.

According to Martin Friedman, editor of Gorman’s New Product News, there are 10 F” words that will be significant food categories for the 90s: Fitness, fat, fiber, fast, fresh, fractional, fancy, foreign, famous and fun. What do these words mean? How do consumers prioritize health issues when making eating decisions? That too, is an individual answer, and consumers have many concerns to choose from in formulating their priorities.

Fitness foods are those that have no cholesterol and are low in fat. Such foods have gained strong popularity in recent years, and will increase in the 90s. “Nutrition has been the most common trend in the last 25 years,” Friedman said at the Mid-Winter Conference of the National Food Distributors Association in February. Another area of reduction will be salt, as more supplements become available.

“Reducing fat in the diet is going to be as important to the 90s as encouraging people to stop smoking was in the’80s,” says Byal. Fat-free foods will replace “light” foods, Friedman adds. Dairy products especially seem to be leading the pack in developing lowfat varieties.

“I think health is probably a No. 1 priority in dairy. It has always had a healthy image in the past,” Byal explains.”There is still an evolution people go through in learning to adjust to the lighter ingredients. Most people can’t go from whole milk to skim milk cold turkey. And there is a group that will never go to skim,” Byal says.

Again, Byal emphasizes that a prerequisite, not only in the microwave/convenience arena but also in the health arena, is taste. When taking out fats, sodium and calories, food manufacturers must continue to provide good-tasting products. Consumers will make no sacrifices when it comes to taste.

Increased attention to food safety also has become a consideration to consumers. This concern, though still in its early stages, will be become more significant in the 90s Doyle says. That’s where labeling comes in.

“Consumers will learn a new language,” Doyle says. Ultimately, consumers must understand the ingredient labels that will apages. “There is safety concern and consumers look to packaged food as food that is expected to be very safe almost all the time,” she says.

Friedman agrees, saying that fresh foods such as salads and vegetables are becoming more popular, however, safe handling of these products has become a main concern. Consumers perceive fresh foods as fresher and healthier, but not safer, he adds.

“Consumers are asking for food without preservatives, and they are going to get it with some trade-offs. I think there is going to be a lot of progress in keeping risky foods safe,” says Doyle. “We’ll probably keep having food scares, but I think consumers are getting more sophisticated,” she predicts.

To help solve this problem, the Administration has announced a proposal for new, more indepth labeling guidelines that will benefit consumers (See story, page 21).

More detailed labeling can serve two purposes: It can reduce the risks in consumers minds of unsafe foods (on products that contain labels), and it will better inform them of the health benefits in the foods they eat. “Consumers will be getting much more complete information, labels that include fat content, larger print ingredient statements, more marketing done on the basis of nutrition and ingredient components,” predicts Doyle. n

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