Opportunities for courting single-person household consumers

I strongly dislike the negative feelings that I experience when throwing away food that’s gotten moldy, stale, or some other form of gross. My experience (and perhaps yours too) comports with Bolton and Alba‘s (2012) work on waste aversion, which explored this very common phenomenon that can affect the way purchase decisions are considered and made.

This problem is particularly pronounced in single-person households, which have been on the rise throughout the world, including in the U.S., where more than one-quarter of households are composed of one person. The trend toward living alone (which is interestingly counterintuitive to our evolutionary programming) has been somewhat well documented, including Eric Klinenberg’s book Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone and Steven Kurutz’s 2012 New York Times article “One is the Quirkiest Number,” among other works.

Savvy marketers, including Procter & Gamble, are paying attention to this trend and developing products and packaging to meet the needs of these often-affluent and often-urban consumers (see Ellen Byron’s story in the WSJ for examples and interviews). One of my favorite companies, Blue Bottle Coffee, has offered whole beans in a 6 oz “half bag” size for some time and it seems safe to assume that option was developed for single-person households, which likely make up a disproportionate amount of Blue Bottle’s customer base. Other companies have not been so wise about identifying and capitalizing on this trend, which may eventually be to their own detriment.

So what kinds of products should be created and/or packaged with the single-person household in mind? I don’t have enough motivation to try to come up with an exhaustive list, but it seems safe to assume that anything sold with a relatively-close expiration date should have a packaging option that aims to eliminate or drastically reduce waste. Similarly, premium products that rely on freshness–Blue Bottle’s high-end coffee, for example–should have some logic behind a quantity-to-time use ratio. To go back to the Blue Bottle example, six ounces of beans makes about seven cups of coffee at home–the perfect amount for a week’s supply. This package ensures that the customer always has fresh beans, which is vital for people who are willing to pay a premium for the roaster’s coffee varieties. It also has the happy side effect of bringing in the brick-and-mortar customers to a location, which creates opportunities to sell additional products.

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