Do you know that close to half of all eating occasions in the UK and the USA comprise one person eating alone – a morose male tucking into a “Sad Bastard Ready Meal for One” comes to mind. But, that’s not so, we’re all too busy and, anyway, in most major urban centres of higher income countries 35% or more of households are singletons – Oslo tops the league with 60% of households being solo and helps explain why they are the highest per capita consumers of individual pizzas in the world! But, not in family-friendly Asia you say?: well, in 2000 less than 50% of 25-29 year old Singaporeans were single and, now, 70+% have that status. It’s no different in 21st Century urban China.
Official statistics on household size are no indication of actual household food eating behaviour, particularly when it comes to millennials. Students and early stage professionals may live together but they certainly don’t eat together at home. Sharing the rent is an economic necessity but, invariably, they have a fridge shelf each and, because of frenetic work and social schedules, pass like ships in the night. Those pesky millennials, why don’t they shut up and get a life? Well, by 2025, there will be 2+ billion of them and will account for over 50% of the global work force. They’re voluble, opinionated, impatient and seem to be obsessed by taking pictures of the food they are eating and crowing about it to their friends. But they are our future core customers – and some of them will elect to produce children. Baby boomers, pampered by the state when the state had money, comfortably off with index-linked pensions and the mortgage paid are disproportionately holders of the nation’s net worth, but their purchasing habits, if not actually set in stone, are very difficult to shift.
Allow an indulgence and a vignette of no statistical significance. David was in Australia last week and talking to a daughter of an old friend. She’s 30, single, a teacher and shares an apartment with a colleague. They never eat together. In the morning, it’s out of bed and off to the nearby fruit & veg. store to buy a customised smoothie for brekky (tick – that’s 4 of her 5-a-day done) and pop next door to buy a sandwich or salad for lunch. Cookies in the staff room for an indulgent, naughty snack. Evening meal? Depends: maybe a takeaway if pushed for time (50%), out with friends, or home for a pasta-based meal prepared at the weekend to cater for such exigencies! Her preference is not to shop in one of the big stores (Woolies or Coles) but to use local outlets who know her and her requirements. She’d buy more organics if she had more income but needs must! Think of young professionals you know, sound familiar?
Let’s not forget about the Generation Xers – exhausted parents as some of them are. These are the lot born between the early-60’s and 80’s. Do they sit down for breakfast and evening meal with father serving at table? Well, no! In the USA (and the UK is close behind), 26% of households with children have a single parent – up from 9% in 1960. Even if they had a full parental set, the notion of “the family” all eating the same meal is passé: God dammit, Brenda is vegetarian this term, David is out at soccer practice, mum is on the FODMAP diet (don’t know about it? You soon will!), and father is gluten intolerant.
Often we’re asked about our view on the globalisation of food and, particularly, the perception that American fast food has an insidious hegemony worldwide. Let’s dismiss this forthwith – urban consumers want food fast around the globe and, increasingly, burgers and pizza apart, Asian food styles are most prominent – any one for sushi, stir fry, noodles? However, the globalising phenomenon is the convergence of values and attitudes of millennial consumers: educated 20 to 35 year olds from Asia, Europe, North and South America, Africa and Australasia have much more in common with each other than they do with the generation before them.
Here’s Kantar’s take on ASEAN (Asian emerging countries bar India, Pakistan and China) food trends:
- Functional consumption – health & wellbeing driving salad bars, healthy meal kit deliveries, cold-pressed juices in Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand. But, simmering concerns over food safety and food chain integrity;
- Mini-foods – indulgent foods in small sizes to reduce guilt such as mini fizzy drinks, ice cream, chips/crisps;
- Food as fashion to bolster image with international brands having strong currency, particularly from Korea and Japan;
- Street fusion – traditional. modern and international mixed such as traditional Indonesian martabak pancake with Nutella and mozzarella toppings;
- Food trucks for goodness sake (surely, Asia was the home of street food?) in Malaysia and Vietnam, with English high tea being seen as cool!;
- Food on demand – we want it NOW using digital hand held phone technology and instant delivery;
- Café society prospers at the expense of old-fashioned boozing – it’s a wifi-driven world where one can connect in comfort (for the recently pubescent, there’s Hello Kitty and Pokémon cafés);
- Consumers ask more of the industry in terms of social responsibility, worker and animal welfare, environment, and care of the local economy;
- And all of the above is mega-digital – it’s astonishing and worrisome how much time Thai, Malaysian and Filipino consumers spend glued to their phones (even by Western standards).
With some exceptions, the above seem consonant with trends prevalent in Western countries for millennials. Now, clearly, in emerging ASEAN countries, the above can be sampled by a relatively small proportion of 20 to 35 year olds simply on income grounds, but that doesn’t mean that a much greater group can aspire to such because they’re all linked in to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest or their own equivalent.
What’s it all mean for us in the food industry? Who knows! But it would be handy if, during a very difficult period for many food companies worldwide, we understood how to relate to this pesky millennial lot. Can we answer key questions such as:
- Do you share my values, particularly as they relate to social issues?;
- Are you listening to me and how quickly can I contact you at a level where I can get action?;
- Can you excite me and my taste buds and help me impress my friends?;
- What’s your story about your company, ingredients, product, the “moment” when we’re enjoying your food and the company of our family and friends?;
- How are you helping me and my family improve our health and wellbeing (without making it too much effort!);
- Can I access you NOW, not this afternoon or tomorrow, but NOW!
Being in the food industry is a tough gig! Why didn’t we choose to be in something addictive like liquor, tobacco or other soft drugs?! Well, one reason is that eating and drinking isn’t going out of fashion. The trick is to work out what, when and how we’ll be feeding the body and elevating the soul and that’s the challenge and the huge opportunity.