Rabobank has published a new report identifying a new type of food consumer, the "hybrid consumer," which the bank says will polarize the food retail spectrum and have significant implications for the food industry.

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. 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.

"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,' 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," said Marc Kennis, senior analyst with Rabobank.

Three forces driving trend

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

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Capturing the hybrid opportunity

Rabobank identifies a range of strategies and tactics that will allow companies to benefit from the rise of the hybrid consumer. These include:

  • Move up to the premium segment of a specific product category, for example, by offering healthier alternatives, using more natural ingredients, and incorporating corporate social responsibility as well as sustainable business practices.
  • Offer 'value' products within the premium segment and 'premium' products within the value segment. By doing so, retailers can cater to consumers who have become more cost-conscious due to waning consumer confidence and purchasing power.
  • Use value products to sell premium products. Supermarkets and foodservice outlets can use this strategy to attract customers with value-for-money propositions, while simultaneously aiming to sell premium, more expensive products to these same customers. A well known UK-based retail food chain, for instance, offers coffee to-go at relatively low price points to generate traffic and simultaneously aims to sell higher priced food products, such as premium sandwiches.

Read more about food industry trends.

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