A new report identifies a new type of food consumer, the “hybrid consumer,” which will polarize the food retail spectrum and have significant implications for food companies, food retailers, and food service companies. 

In the report, Rabobank’s Food & Agribusiness Research and Advisory group says that consumers are becoming less interested in mid-market products and are instead trading down when it comes to everyday value-for-money items, such as basic groceries. Using the money they save through trading down on staples, hybrid consumers are trading up to premium, high-end products that matter most from an emotional and social perspective, such as premium brands in supermarkets and fine dining. As a result of this trend, Rabobank says the food retail sector will become increasingly polarized into value and premium categories, with middle ground players struggling to retain market share. 

Marc Kennis, Senior Analyst with Rabobank’s, commented, “The implications of the hybrid consumer market trend are profound and touch on areas such as product offerings, distribution channels, marketing, and brand management. Given the driving forces of hybrid consumption, i.e., women’s increasing role in household spending and the growing importance of “millennials” (i.e., generations Y and Z), we believe that hybrid consumption is a long-lasting phenomenon. Therefore food processors, food retailers and food service companies alike will need to adapt or risk fading in relevance.”

 

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Three forces driving hybrid consumer trend

Rabobank has identified the three main forces driving the hybrid consumer trend:

1. Socio-demographic developments. The growth of women’s purchasing power and increasing influence over household spending is a major factor; research indicates women are more objective than men when it comes to food purchasing decisions. Additionally, younger generations who grow up using social media are more likely to make food choices based on merits rather than on specific brand loyalties.

2. Food retailer strategies. The advent of discounters has added to consumers’ options to trade down, and in recent years private label products have increased trading up options. Increased use of the internet as a tool to compare products and prices has also led to greater consumer awareness regarding food product purchasing.

3. Macro-economic developments. The recent global recession has accelerated the existing market dualization. Constraints on disposable income and falling consumer confidence has encouraged trading down on basic items. At the same time, consumers still want to occasionally indulge  themselves even in times of economic hardship, and are willing to pay a bit extra for premium quality.

Hybrid consumer patterns are reflected in the growth rates of retailers. Those geared towards the mid-market are showing lower growth rates over a longer period than their peers at the extreme ends of the spectrum. Between 2007 and 2012, above average performers in the U.S. were either hard discounters, such as Aldi, or premium formats, such as Whole Foods and HE Butt Grocery. Similar trends exist in Western Europe:  growth rates at mid-market operators, such as Morrison’s, Tesco, Sainsbury and Asda, have been clearly lower than at discounters such as Aldi and Lidl, as well as upmarket retailers, such as Waitrose.