retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

There are so many things I don’t know that I frequently learn things that are old news to others. If this happens to you, too, remember that it’s not really a problem. It’s an opportunity to find business opportunities.

Let’s start though with something I actually know. I was recently in Vancouver, BC, for the IGA Global rally. On the day after the rally I was surprised that the lead article in Vancouver’s largest newspaper detailed problems local doctors have diagnosing Lyme disease. Now I lived relatively near Lyme, Connecticut, when the tick-borne virus was first identified more than 30 years ago. So I couldn’t believe I knew things Vancouver doctors did not.

When I mentioned this to some friends from IGA, they had a different reaction. Many of them live in places where Lyme disease is relatively unknown so what was old news to me was eye-opening to them. It happens all the time.

When my daughter, Sarah, recently moved out on her own, she started opening my eyes again. Sarah in many ways is a dream shopper. She loves cooking and loves supermarkets, but living as a single person in a small apartment she is finding plenty to dislike.

Sarah frequently takes sandwiches to work to save money on lunch and that means she needs to buy bread. Her problem is that none of the four supermarkets in her new area sell anything but regular sized loaves (along with other packages for large families.) When it comes to bread, Sarah would willingly pay more than half the cost for a half-sized package. And she’d do it throughout the store because smaller packages fit her living space, her budget and her needs. But it isn’t an option.

That’s not good because Sarah isn’t alone. New US Census data shows that marriage rates are at an all time low as an increasing percentage of young people postpone marriage. Swedish professor Kjell Nordstrom, who I saw speak at the TCC international marketing meeting in Spain last week, said the postponement of marriage is a trend throughout the developed world and it’s one that that marketers of all kinds had better understand.

Nordstrom says there are three key global demographic trends that seem irreversible and all three have impact for the supermarket industry. The first is the rise of single person households, who now make up enormous percentages (near or above 50 percent) of the population in major cities in Europe and North America. That means a major market for consumers like Sarah, with households that may never be large enough for that full loaf of bread.

The second is a global trend toward urban living, fueled by the massive move to cities in places like China and India. Again there are lessons for American supermarkets operators who watch large companies like Walmart and Tesco work diligently to build small store models. That’s a good model for an urbanized world.

Lastly is the rise of women in non-traditional roles. If you’ve been on a US college campus lately you see clear evidence of the rise of female students that Nordstrom talk about. It’s an obvious trend at any of the schools offering food management programs in the US. And that means the future of leadership looks very different as does the future needs of our traditional shopper.

In other words, Sarah’s problem with the loaf of bread is your problem too. But it ought to be your Eye-Opening opportunity.

Because if you are retailer, selling half a loaf is better than none.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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