Kathy Perrotta is vice-president at Ipsos Canada and leads the company’s FIVE Food and Beverage tracking service, which examines the behaviour, attitudes and motivations of 20,000 Canadian consumers. Research shows that busy lifestyles, long daily work commutes and hyper-connectivity are influencing daily food and beverage choices. During the recent Star Women in Convenience Awards Event, Perrotta delivered a keynote outlining this evolution. She also spoke with Convenience Store News Canada’s Quick Bites columnist and foodservice insights professional Darren Climans about how the convenience and gas channel performs against these drivers to establish a framework for growth and future success.
DC: What are the key socio-economic and macro trends shaping consumers’ current consumption choices?
KP: We’re definitely in a period of flux in terms of the Canadians’ food and beverage choices. Compared to even five years ago, when we started the FIVE Food and Beverage tracking service, the changes are significant. The biggest single factor is the shift in Canadian demographics, which includes an aging population, shrinking household sizes, urbanization, growth in representation of specific minority groups, and the rising influence of the aging millennial cohort.
These are manifested in the so-called trends that we see at the consumer level. Increased attention given to health and wellness is creating new food priorities. It is a function of both aging boomers and better-informed younger consumers. Similarly, consumers’ growing focus on convenience and personal/customized food and beverage solutions is another example of a trend that is being driven by a number of factors across demographic groups.
DC: How has technology been a driver of change for consumers?
KP: The false promise of technology was that it was supposed to save us time. While the advent of technology and social media in our everyday lives certainly provides a plethora of benefits, it also makes us mindfully aware of and contributes actively to the reality of daily time constraints. Bottom line is that we have become very time challenged.
As a result, time is, in many ways, the new currency. This isn’t going away—it will continue to be the focus of retailers, manufacturers and foodservice operators alike.
DC: What are some examples of how these changes are being expressed in Canadians’ daily food and beverage choices?
KP: The long-term trend over the last half-century has been a slow movement of consumer eating occasions from at-home to away-from-home options. The data shows that this gradual shift continues to express itself in the decisions of younger consumers.
The rise of ‘snacking culture’ and its prominence in our daily routines has ultimately reformed the traditional meal regime, which is now simpler, with fewer components than in the past, consumed alone and requires less time to prepare.
This dovetails with trending in HMR (home meal replacement), meal kits and home delivery. Though still very small, our FIVE data shows increases in sourcing from both HMR and home delivery services to meet convenience-oriented needs. The emergence of meal kits is driven by more than convenience. It helps consumers satisfy their need for fresh, less processed foods while enjoying ‘no fail’ culinary exploration.
DC: You say in your keynote that ‘Canadians want convenience without compromise’—what are the recommendations that you have for the convenience and gas channel to build a framework for growth and future success?
KP: There’s no doubt that overall growth and future success in retailing will be fueled by convenience. That’s a good foundational fit for the C&G channel to emerge as a food-forward destination. But consumers’ ideas of what convenience means have evolved and matured. With time being the new retailing currency, there are many more options. Consequently, consumers’ desire for quick and easy is increasingly matched by their unwillingness to sacrifice needs for healthy, fresh, less processed, high quality products and unique experiences.
DC: Are there any competitors or disruptors on the horizon that C&G operators should keep an eye on?
KP: One emerging concept is the micro-market, which combines the convenience of a vending machine with healthy, daily stocked options more typical of a grocery store or quick-service restaurant. These micro-markets don’t have any staff. They leverage cashier-less vending technologies—automation, firmware and payment systems—with the core elements of convenience retailing.
Micro-markets present a potential disruption threat to all immediate consumption channels given their relatively low-cost set-up; ability to locate in the buildings where people live and work; and high margin—zero labour cost—appeal. In absolute terms, this segment is still very small but it has grown over the past three years and could evolve to become a future competition to the C&G channel.