Fear shaped consumer behavior in 2009; Mintel says next year will bring confidence

The Commerce Department reports that retail sales rose 1.3 per cent in November, .2 per cent higher than predicted in October. A .2 per cent doesn't seem like a lot, but according to economists it's a sign that the economy may be inching up. Mintel agrees, citing recent research that shows a behavioral shift from fear based buying (or lack thereof) to a more confident fresh start in 2010.

As Functional Ingredients reports in the January issue, manufacturers of functional foods, beverages and supplements agree that by midyear this industry will begin returning to higher growth numbers. Click here for chart.

Following this year's global economic recession, consumers are ready to reset and start fresh for 2010, says the Mintel report. The research company predicts seven key consumer behavior trends for the year ahead, looking at how this year's adversity created a new set of values. In 2010, resilience will define consumer behavior, as people's strengthened resolve and changed behaviors shape new lifestyles.

Richard Cope, director at Mintel, says:
"While in 2009, fear played an important role in shaping consumer behavior, 2010 will see a return of confidence and adaptation to overcome the restraints previously imposed on consumers. Balance has become the new mantra. As consumers find they are able to spend again, we'll see balanced spending and balanced consumption as key characteristics of next year."

1. Resilience
In 2010, Mintel expects consumers to demonstrate resilience—an ability to recover from and adjust to any misfortune or change brought on by the recession. People will face next year with better attitudes and strengthened resolve, learning new skills like cooking, meal planning and DIY repair to cope with the "New Economy." Already, a quarter of Americans made their own home improvements to save money, while some 13 million Brits say they're cooking from scratch more often.

As many people still face unemployment, 2010 may see them looking to online educational tools to develop professional and social skills. Businesses that harness consumers' new resilient, education-driven mentality will benefit next year.

2. Reviewing and re-evaluating
The past year gave consumers cause to re-evaluate every aspect of their lives, looking for value and savings. In 2010, expect shoppers to keep reviewing as they hunt out the best deals and realize where they can get by on less. For example, nearly four in 10 Americans always or usually buy private label food.

Value initiatives are hot and they'll remain so. However, consumers will purchase more expensive products if they are convinced of the products' value. Brands that engage consumers effectively stand to be successful next year despite price barriers. Case in point: some 4 million UK shoppers say they now buy fewer, but better quality, clothes.

3. Prove it — accountability
Because consumer confidence worldwide took a hit this year, 2010 will see increased demand for proof and results. People are tracking more areas of their lives through micro-blogging sites like Twitter, so transparency is no longer a differentiator for brands; it's a requirement.

We've become a society of doubters, skeptical of nutrition claims, the motives of "green" companies, and the competitiveness of bank rates. A company's need for accountability is nothing new, but the quantity of information available today adds to the challenge. Mintel predicts that in 2010, brands will need to pull out all the stops to gain consumers' trust.

4. Escapism
The past year has meant a huge amount of economizing and scaling back on previously normal treats and experiences. While consumers have become accustomed to staycations, small indulgences and cooking at home, Mintel predicts they'll start breaking free from the tyranny of value in 2010.

Escapism will resonate both in and outside the home as people splurge on big purchases, such as the flat-panel TVs 34% of Americans plan to buy themselves this holiday season. Savvy brands are already capitalizing on people's desire to escape by offering new experiences like 3-D media and audio literature.

5. Media evolution
Micro-blogging, social networking and interactive media have exploded into consumers' lives, and as confidence in usage grows, people will incorporate new media forms more into their daily lives. Four in 10 Americans have at least one social networking profile and in the UK, nine in 10 adults have a computer in their home. As people use new media to change and simplify daily tasks, they'll question the nature of authority and effective use of advertising. Companies must work harder next year to truly engage, attract and interact with consumers, as media quickly evolves.

6. Ethical responsibility
In 2010, it'll be even more important to coax consumers out of their spending slumber and wean retailers off perpetual discounting. Ethics will play a large part in rebuilding brands. Environmental and ethical issues still attract attention: nearly half of UK adults view them as important and 90% of Americans buy green products at least sometimes.

For businesses to rebuild brands through ethical efforts, they'll need to connect with consumers, giving them an emotional reason to buy. As consumers demand more from the companies they do business with, they'll want ethical responsibility to be a chief concern, creating more scrutiny on ethical claims than ever before.

7. Stability
The past year left its mark: consumers are shying away from the spending binges of the past few decades and finding that moderation and preparation are possibilities. Mintel predicts 2010 will be a year for increasingly seeking balance and readjusting to the "New Economy."

As people accept the economy as it is now and embark on more conservative spending, they'll also stabilize other areas of their lives: food, diet, beauty. Brands can capitalize by giving consumers multiple product options at different price points and benefit levels.

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