Global Trend Update: Careful Consumers Seek Relief from Gloom

Even as the faltering economy continues to drag people down financially and emotionally, cautious optimism has steadily balanced out stress and economic hardship around the world, according to Mintel, which recently reaffirmed several consumer-behavior predictions it made at the end of 2008.

Late last year, Mintel anticipated that worldwide markets would witness five consumer trends in 2009:

  • Trust
  • Control
  • Playfulness
  • Simplicity
  • Trading “down, up and over”

More than halfway into 2009, the firm sees these themes playing out as still-pessimistic consumers around the world nonetheless attempt to find ways to transform their lifestyles and lighten the moods.

Following is Mintel’s mid-year assessment of where things stand on each trend:

Trust

Trust is a paramount concern in 2009, as banks, food manufacturers and government officials suffer from losing people’s trust. In the US, 66% of adults say they have less trust in financial services companies because of recent economic developments. Food companies are at risk too: Six in 10 Americans worry about food safety, Mintel said.

In the UK and elsewhere, consumers have lost trust in financial institutions and brands continue to fight to establish themselves as trustworthy. According to Mintel, trust is key to keeping customer loyalty because people are seeking out cheaper private label options. For example, 39% of Brits on a budget look to switch to private label.

Control

When the financial bottom dropped out last year, already-choosy consumers found another reason to grasp for control – security. A Mintel survey of US mass affluent adults showed two in five saying they intend to permanently spend less and decrease their reliance on credit cards, thus increasing control over their finances. Likewise, in the UK, as many as 6 million Brits (13%) planned to increase their savings in the next year or so, while another 3 million  (6%) who are not current savers intend to start saving soon.

“We see new values taking hold as people adapt to today’s tighter economy,” said Harry Foster, global analyst at Mintel. “Conservative and pragmatic are in; excess is out. Consumers feel pessimistic about the future, so they’re taking cautious steps to ensure their safety and happiness now.”

Playfulness

Despite negative feelings about the economy and pressure to cut back, people still want to enjoy themselves, Mintel said.  In the US, three in five people say they traveled domestically in the past year; but to save money, more travelers visit friends or family, spend time looking for travel bargains or choose cheap transportation. Additionally, helping people achieve the balance between necessity and pleasure, global manufacturers have been releasing quirky, light-hearted new products. Mintel suggested that this playfulness offers people a way to escape, engage and build relationships with brands.

Simplicity

In work and play alike, consumers around the world continue seeking simplicity, Mintel predicts.  More than two-thirds of Americans recently told the firm they’ve been simplifying their lives over the past six months, while nearly nine in 10 think there is “too much emphasis on material things in our society.” Manufacturers have followed suit around the world, launching more products that appease people’s desire for clear functionality, clean ingredient labels and simple packaging. Restaurants also have jumped on this bandwagon by offering all-inclusive meal deals.

Trading down, up and over

Trying to save where they can, consumers continue trading down across spending opportunities. Eight in 10 Americans say they’re cooking at home more now, while a full 52% admit to spending less at restaurants this year than last. Meanwhile, some 54% of Brits are buying more food on special offers, while more than a third (36%) are trading down to budget private-label brands.

With so much trading down, however, many consumers also trade up in some instances to reward themselves. Small luxuries such as fine chocolate or perfume are a common treat, while other shoppers purchase gourmet food at the grocery store because it’s still more affordable than eating out.

“At the end of last year, we knew 2009 was going to be difficult for people across the globe,” noted Foster. “The first half of the year was especially challenging, but with tentative, recent green shoots of recovery, we expect people’s attitudes to brighten considerably in coming months. Consumers have a resilient ability to stay positive amid tough circumstances.”

Mintel analyzes consumer trends annually, pinpointing those with the greatest impact on behavior and beliefs. Mintel’s 2010 trend predictions will be released later this year.