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Friday, April 18, 2008

Dinner at home is hot (again)

For years, “time poverty” has had significant influence over many of the choices consumers make. From online shopping to grab-and-go foods, there is plenty of evidence that people have been preoccupied with “time savings” as a purchase priority. But with rising food prices comes the return of the original heat-to-complete entrée: Leftovers!

A recent story in Media Post/Marketing Daily discussed this renaissance of re-heating. The story indicates that 55% of Americans are preparing more meals at home than they did last year.

Implications: Of course, it’s too early to tell if this is a long-term trend or a short-term phenomenon (that will likely depend on simple economics and consumer confidence). But as the Marketing Daily story implies, we should watch for spikes in the sales of deep freezers, food storage products (Tupperware, home canning, etc.) and continued increases in the sale of “bulk” foods, as these behaviors might indicate the extent to which food prices are impacting consumer behavior.

Also, does more at-home dining mean more opportunities for family time? If so, what kinds of conversations, games or other entertainment go well with the return of the traditional family dinner? Is there some way in which your product or service fits in?

If more demands will be placed on the kitchen and dining room than in years passed, what kinds of utensils, equipment or furnishings might need to be updated?

For restaurants, it might be time to focus on the utilitarian value your establishment delivers. If dining out is less likely to be “taken for granted,” why should people continue to frequent your café? (Is the meal incident intended to be a romantic getaway? An important business lunch? Or is it intended to celebrate an accomplishment at work, or a birthday in the family?) Watch for out-of-home dining to become even less about the food, and more about the experience or event which inspired the visit.

And by the way, don’t be surprised when more patrons ask for a “to go” box for their leftovers.

Mike Anderson

Fuel for thought

Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed several news stories which focus on shortages in the world food supply, and global increases in food costs. And in many of these stories, alternative fuels are implicated, if not accused, of aggravating the problem. (As an example, see how the issue was raised in a NY Times story last Friday.)

People have been asking for more ethanol production and other bio-fuel alternatives for years (or at least, they’ve been asking for ways of mitigating high gas prices). Recently, petroleum prices have risen to a point where the production of alternative fuel seems to make financial sense. But there is increasing global scrutiny over a market in which bio-fuels are competing for the same crops and commodities which were previously devoted to the food supply.

Implications: It is not my intent to express a personal position on this issue, one way or the other. But I think it’s important for us to anticipate that consumers will have an opinion. It is reasonable to expect increasing media attention focused on BOTH high petroleum costs and world hunger, two topics which can impact consumer sentiment with great force. Just as consumers might be interested in where you company stands on charitable giving, global warming, or fair trade, don’t be surprised if this issue joins the list of hotly debated topics.

For example, some people might be delighted that your company’s delivery trucks use alternative “bio-fuels,” because “the energy comes from here at home and helps our farmers.” Other people might be offended, in response to their belief that bio-fuels might be tapping commodities which are already in short supply in a world that is hungry. Again, I intend no subjective editorial viewpoint here; but as news coverage gives this topic a higher profile, expect it to stimulate passionate and polarized opinions.

Mike Anderson

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Call it, "Irregulation"

Do a quick review of some recent news stories.

In late March, four different airlines voluntarily cancelled more than 700 flights after the first phase of an FAA maintenance audit (see this story from KRON-TV). The news was disruptive enough that congress has started to ask questions about why issues had not been detected earlier (see this story from the Minneapolis Star Tribune).

Meanwhile, controversy grows about the use of direct-to-consumer advertising by drug companies (see this update from the NY Times). A two-year drug trial questions the effectiveness of two cholesterol control drugs (story from UPI). And it seems like there are frequent recalls of foods and medicines—many of which were previously approved by the FDA (see the agency’s own recall records page.)

Lead paint on imported toys. Sub-prime lending practices which contributed to a destabilized credit market. A bridge collapses in Minnesota (after passing an inspection just a couple of years before).

I could go on… but let me assume the point has been made. Industries we thought to be regulated… are proving to still have significant irregularities.

Implications: The spate of recent news reports about recalls and regulatory missteps could intensify the consumer’s desire to buy from trusted providers, and accelerate their use of online tools to scrutinize and research the products and services they buy. (Example: see

We should not be surprised when customers demand increasing transparency in the way products are designed, produced, and tested before going to market. Companies who provide some type of independent certification, research, or other assurance of quality may find such validations to have significant gravitational pull… for consumers who might increasingly feel like they must fend for themselves in the quest for products that are safe for their family.

Mike Anderson