Research shows the single-serve food market could be a remedy, but is the industry paying attention
Singles are one of the fastest-growing demographics in Canada and the food industry is not doing enough to target this demographic. In recent years there has been a significant effort to capture the millennial market. Single-person households and millennial needs may overlap, but how to develop these markets are very different. This is beyond local foods or gluten-free or even organics. The single-serve demographic could become the remedy the food industry has been waiting for. However, despite compelling research in this area it is difficult to find any evidence of an industry paying attention to what is happening to Canada’s demographics.
People living on their own make up more than 25% of Canadian households, likely the highest level in our history. Many of us eat alone and often. This trend is expected to continue for quite some time. According to a recent survey, breakfast remains the loneliest food-related event of the day. More than 60% of Canadians eat their cereals, toasts or muffins alone. The majority of lunches are also eaten alone, while about 32% of Canadians eat dinner alone. From a social perspective this may be a source of concern. People who eat alone tend to eat more and less healthy. The number of solo eating and beverage occasions have wide-ranging implications for food and beverage industry pundits in terms of new products, packaging, and positioning.
First, a single-serve is easily adaptable to specific, singular needs. Not all consumers are created equal. For example, males eat differently than their female counterparts. Males are known to eat less traditional meals and tend to be grazers. Female are usually more health and weight-conscious and will opt for less calorific choices. The common denominator between genders is the quest for the appropriate portion size and nutritional content. The required fiber-protein mix also differs between genders. The single-serve category can extend the capacity for any food retailer to super-customize anything. The convenience of single-servings is also incredibly appealing for singles on-the-go or pressed for time. The industry is nowhere near where it should be when it comes to portable single-serve food products. Many markets, such as Japan and Europe, are much farther ahead than us.
The single-serve offering may not stop at singles. Even large-group gatherings that include family and friends may change. Imagine if you are a recovering chef-want-a-be. Hosting can be easy as you would be able to offer several single-serve options to your guest. One can eat lasagna while the other can eat pot-roast or a nice tuna salad. The added feature to this scenario is better waste management. Single servings are likely to produce less left-overs and thus less waste. Impressive. You could want what you want, anywhere. The single-serve concept can lead to the ultra-customizable food economy. The possibilities are endless. Pasta, bread, pies, cereals, salads, wines, dairy, are many products that could be intentionally sold for the single demographic. An aggressive position on single-servings could reenergize the weary centre of the grocery store. Stores would need to be reconfigured similar to the ready-to-eat section we now see in many stores.
While the sharing economy is all about the redistribution of our resources’ economy utility, the single-serve marketplace is in fact the opposite. It allows our supply-driven food system to better synchronize itself with our ever changing demands. Single-serve could prevent excess and the industry would cash in on the added value. The perfect weapon for growth.
But the hard-cold truth of how lonely our society has become will eventually be reflected in how food is sold to us. Food is about culture, fun, joy and sharing. Yet for a growing number of Canadians it is about solitude, and perhaps seclusion. Again, this is an opportunity for the food industry to see consumers as social beings, in many different ways.
If you remain skeptical, just look at what happened to coffee. The single-serve coffee which didn’t exist a few years ago now accounts for more than 35% of the total amount of coffee sold in grocery stores across Canada. The category needs to address the environmental challenges with better, compostable packaging, but its case for better convenience is undeniably strong.
At some point the food industry will adjust and cater to this growing market segment and capitalize on what has been an underserved lonesome consumer. This is not only good news for our food industry’s bottom-line, but it may very well change how we consume food in the future.
Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, B.Comm MBA DBA
Dean of Management and
Professor in Food Distribution and Policy
Faculty of Management
Faculty of Agriculture
Faculty of Management
Kenneth C. Rowe Management Building
6100 University Avenue
PO Box 15000
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3H 4R2