Lessons from the U.S.: Increasing number of “opportunist” eaters in America

According to a recent Times & Trends report titled “How America Eats: Capturing Growth with Food on the Run” released by Information Resources, Inc. (IRI), an increasing number of Americans are eating on the run. Coined “opportunists” by IRI, these eaters represent 21 per cent of Americans and eat “mini meals” throughout the day as opposed to the traditional, three-meals-a-day. While a large percentage of consumers are still traditional eaters, the new “opportunist” category is increasing and becoming an important consumer target for retailers and the consumer packaged goods market. Canadian retailers should be aware of this trend which may have relevance in Canada.

IRI profiles the opportunist eaters as follows:

  • • Various Ages: half are under the age of 45
  • • Diverse Income Levels: skewed slightly to the lower end of the income spectrum
  • • More Females: two-thirds are female
  • • Less Hispanic Origin: 92 per cent are of non-Hispanic origin
  • • Smaller Households: two-thirds come from single-member or two-member households

IRI also found that opportunists exercise less than the traditional three-meal planners. Nearly half (45 per cent) exercise less than two times per week, whereas three-quarters of planners are active for at least 20 minutes on a daily basis. In terms of their approach to healthy eating, both the opportunist group and traditional planner group follow the “moderation is key” approach. However, planners are more inclined than their counterparts to factor healthy eating into their daily meal plan.

The research provides a couple of considerations to help manufacturers and retailers understand this new target consumer. First, price is a significant factor that influences opportunists’ purchasing behaviours and one-third of opportunists stated that coupons and discounts influence their meal/snack decisions. A large percentage of opportunists turn to value channels and many non-dollar channel U.S. retailers are responding by developing value-focused programs for the price-sensitive crowd.

Second, a good portion of opportunist eaters grab convenient foods with little thought as to whether the food is a snack or meal. When cooking, they look for convenience to evaluate their food and beverage options. Two-thirds of the opportunist group want foods that are quick and easy to prepare, and one-third prefer to eat heat-and-eat or ready-to-eat foods rather than preparing options from scratch. As a result, this group spends more on frozen appetizers and convenient options compared to its counterparts.

Many Canadian retailers are already catering to this target consumer by adding convenient, meal-to-go options, but price competitiveness continues to be an impediment for some. With the changing demographic and increased competition in the retail sector, it is becoming crucial for retailers to understand their consumers and what they want. Whether it’s through reading trend reports or engaging in dialogue with your consumers, keep up-to-date on your target audience and ensure that you deliver what they need, not what you want to sell.

Source: MarketWatch