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The Consumer is Changing... Are You?

By Darcey Howard

Do you ever feel like the last one to know? If you’re the last one to know that a distant family member eloped over the weekend, no big deal. If you’re the last one to know the trends affecting your customers - you may be running yourself out of business. Your customers are changing, that’s a guarantee. They are changing their lifestyle and their preferences. Some customers want everything sugar-free and low-carb, while others want to indulge. The trends affecting our industry? They are-a-changin’.

The Struggle with the Waistline

More than 60% of Americans are clinically overweight. The majority of your customers are fighting a battle with obesity and you can rest assured the rest of them are sensitive to their food decisions as well. Most people who are dieting fall within the age group of 25 to 54 years old, while the greatest percentage falls within the 35 to 44 age bracket. In other words, one of your prime targets. Factor in that over 50% of all Americans made an effort to limit their carbohydrate intake last year and you have more than a trend, you have a movement.

So how do you satisfy this customer? Offer low-carb versions of everything, but don’t compromise flavor. The customers who are watching their weight, sugar and carb intake are already depriving themselves in so many ways. Help them to feel as normal as possible by giving them the same choices as everyone else. In terms of variety, you can offer flavored coffees. Also, most low-carb diets restrict caffeine, so make sure you have decaf options. You can offer sugar-free, low-carb blended drinks as well. Choose neutral bases, which allow you to create multiple flavor options. Also consider iced coffees, teas, chai and cocoas. And get smart on the low-carb movement. Remember, this is all about the customer. You may not be on a low-carb or sugar-free diet, but research shows most of your customers are. So speak the language. Read your syrup and sauce labels and have nutrition facts at your fingertips. If one of your customers asks how many “net carbs” are in that drink, be ready to answer.

Healthier Options
The consumer is demanding not just low-carb, sugar-free options, but overall healthier options too. What started as a low buzz in the mid ‘90s is culminating in a loud roar by 2005. The traditional food pyramid most of us grew up with will be changing in 2005 to include calorie recommendations and portion guidelines. Beginning in January of 2006, manufacturers will be required to list grams of trans fats on labels. Fortification continues to appear in waters, juices and sodas.

The result: manufacturers are cleaning up ingredients, with more of a focus on natural ingredients. Consumers are far more conscience of their shopping and buying habits. A recent New York Times article sited that approximately 5-6% of coffee drinkers are seeking out and purchasing Fair Trade coffee.

Smoothies continue to rise in popularity with the health conscious set. A February 2004 report marked the smoothie market size at nearly $1.2 billion, with 15% growth from 2002 to 2003. Approximately 14% of the population had tried a smoothie, while an estimated 60%t that hadn’t said they were likely to try one in the future. Are you offering a solution for this customer -- or better yet, potential customer?

How do you satisfy the health conscious customer? Ensure your staff is educated on the nutritional information of your products and also find a way to display nutritional information. Ensure you are using natural products that align with the nutritional and health guidelines of this set. You may also want to offer drink options that include tonics and neutraceuticals. Offer Fair Trade coffee and expand tea and smoothie options as well.

But They’re Not Boring
If you’re going to splurge once in a while, it better be worth it. This is the mindset of today’s customer. If they are going to restrict themselves from many of life’s traditional food pleasures for the majority of the week, when they do fall off the wagon, they’re doing it right. Diners in Seattle’s Five Spot Café who order the Bulge dessert are playfully required to sign a waiver absolving the restaurant of any later health consequences. The dessert consists of sugar coated fried bananas, ice cream, macadamia nuts, whipped cream, and chocolate and caramel sauce. Haagen-Daz has launched seven new dessert-inspired flavors. Ice cream with mix-ins and gourmet flavors are gaining in popularity. The need to splurge is still quite alive -- it’s just going higher-end.

How do you satisfy the customer with a flare for the occasionally indulgent? Create signature drinks. Perhaps you may want to use “secret” ingredients in some specialty drinks. Create and promote seasonal drink specials. And offer finishing touches like chocolate covered espresso beans or complementary cookies to those who order sweeter beverages.

The Customer Base is Increasingly Diversified
Ethnically-influenced foods and drinks are appearing on menus across all categories. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in the decade between 1990 and 2000 the number of foreign-born people living in the U.S. grew by 58%. Nearly 20% of the U.S. population speaks a language other than English at home. If you are not altering your menu to satisfy this customer, you may be missing a good-sized piece of the potential market.

And how do you satisfy this customer? Consider experimenting with savory and spicy flavors such as cinnamon, jalapeno or chiles. Expand your syrup fruit flavors to include tropicals such as: guava, pineapple, papaya, and passion fruit. And offer specialty drinks that incorporate coconut.

What’s Selling Right Now
The times-are-a-changin’, but that certainly doesn’t mean any of us need to be left behind. Continue to alter and evolve your menu to reflect the changing attitudes and behaviors of your customers. Today’s menu should offer quality sugar-free, low-carb drinks, healthier drink options, dessert drinks, and drinks with exotic infusions. Place more emphasis on variety and don’t forget those signature drinks that create a unique value proposition. Cheers.

Darcey Howard is marketing manager at Seattle-based syrup maker Da Vinci Gourmet.

Tea & Coffee - August/September, 2004

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