Natural Foods Merchandiser

Singles yearn for a little love from retailers

Desperately Seeking: Single American. You're starving for variety, passionate about life and fresh produce, enjoy sunsets and leisurely walks down the frozen foods aisle. Appearance not important, but prefer you shop with your own canvas bags.

For the first time, more U.S. homes are headed by unmarried people than married people, according to a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau. Currently, 22 percent of natural product dollar volume comes from single households, reports SPINS/Information Resources Inc.

There are a variety of ways (beyond cheesy personals) to attract members of this profitable niche to your store.

Smaller portions
"I'm single and when I'm shopping, I want smaller-sized containers," says Steven Hoffman, president of Compass Natural Marketing, and a 20-year veteran of the natural products industry. "For example, if I'm looking for soymilk I want a smaller container, even if I pay a little more, because I know that in the end I'm going to waste money because I won't finish a bigger container before it goes bad. Stores could increase the variety of flavors of things like soymilk that are available in quarts."

"I want a smaller container, even if I pay a little more."
"Single people don't need as much—they don't eat as much—at one time as larger households," says industry consultant Kevin Coupe. "Smaller containers are smarter, and, if you assume that single people are smarter than those who are not single, judging by the fact that they're not married, make the focus on offering intelligent choices," adds Coupe, who notes, with a laugh, that he's been married for 24 years.

Pre-made promos
"There are studies that have come out, including one in Prevention magazine, and another by the Food Marketing Institute, that have found that people who cook at home are healthier than those who eat out," says Hoffman. Another recent study by FMI reported that single shoppers eat out more and cook fewer meals. "There's got to be some middle ground," Hoffman says, "so it doesn't take hours to prepare a meal. Some ways to improve the cooking experience are by meeting some of the preparation needs."

Hoffman points to prepared ingredients for meals, like flavored, precooked tofu. "I can pop it on top of a salad—it's already cooked, it's already seasoned, and there's a nice, healthy meal," he says. Precooked rice is another example. "Lundberg and others have come out with precooked rice in gusseted bags—a brilliant idea," he says. "It's a great alternative to cooking a whole pot of rice. It saves time, and this way, less goes to waste. It's all about convenience."

Stores can really cater to single shoppers with expanded meal solutions in the form of ready-to-eat options in the deli section, Hoffman says. Increasing the variety of healthy options in the frozen foods section also helps make life easier for singles.

Depending on the demographics of your area, singles' nights with tastings could "be a good schtick, combining shopping with a little matchmaking," Hoffman suggests. Whole Foods has done just that, featuring cooking demonstrations that highlight 'romantic' recipes, music by a live jazz band and samples of so-called aphrodisiac foods.

"If you can have any kind of event with beer and wine tastings," Coupe says, "people really respond well." Coupe also suggests offering cooking classes. "[They're] a great way to appeal to people and also a great opportunity to meet people," he says. "Married or single, people in their 20s or 30s don't tend to know a lot about cooking. Having a class in a store—a user-friendly environment—singles could learn basic cooking skills and be social at the same time. An industry's coming up around people getting together and cooking a week's worth of meals at once to take home and freeze or store. It's social and practical. If they have the facilities, stores could try something like that."

Shara Rutberg is a Boulder, Colo.-based freelance writer.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 3/p. 66

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