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Technology, Transparency Dominate Mintel's Big Conversation


Smart technology, blurred channel lines, brand transparency and modernized gender roles took top billing at Mintel's Big Conversation on Thursday, as a panel of industry experts discussed evolving consumer trends for 2015 at the market research firm's U.S. headquarters in Chicago.

The continued growth of synced devices -- not only smart phones and TVs, but wearable technology like watches and health software that monitors fitness goals -- will continue their forward march into the mainstream, and not just for consumers.

According to Mintel's Lynn Dornblaser, in the coming year more products will feature QR codes that sync to consumers' personal devices, to offer not only specials and promotions, but source tracing information, recipes and even music downloads. Retailers and manufacturers have the opportunity to take full advantage of shoppers' desire to aggregate more and more of their consumer activity onto a single device.

Another trend carving out a substantial impact on global retail is the blurring of channels, in terms of brick-and-mortar, try-before-you-buy, pure-play online and click-and-collect. The panel made particular note of Amazon, which is expanding its Sunday delivery service to 15 additional cities, as well as Walmart, the world's largest mega-retailer and traditional brick-and-mortar, which is testing its own pick-up option in certain markets – a service that "answers in-transit purchases being spurred by increased connectivity," Dornblaser said.

Dornblaser added that brands also have been using the online realm to test new products before expanding them to larger markets, including Pepsi True, the brand's Stevia-sweetened answer to Coca-Cola Life, and General Mills' Veggie Blend-Ins.

As Millennials will command more buying power than any consumer segment in just a few years, it's important to consider that these younger shoppers demand transparency, the panel noted. Customer rights and corporate responsibility have taken center stage among consumers, and not only are manufacturers and retailers following suit, but they're actually enlisting consumer input and responding accordingly.

In addition to what ingredients companies put in their products, consumers are also making buying decisions based on company values, like LGBT issues, minimum wage, environmental responsibility, animal rights and the support of political parties. Many engaged consumers get involved in protests, social media campaigns and other such efforts, and offer up their money to those companies who heed the call.

Mintel's Big Conversation closed with a discussion on gender roles, and how the evolution of traditional male and female behavior has impacted the marketing of products and shoppers' associated response.

A modernized, and at times more domestic definition of masculinity plays a larger role in the food and beverage industry, Dornblaser said, pointing to the launch of two brands' "Brogurt" products -- yogurt marketing specifically to men.

The Powerful brand's yogurt offering has seen declined sales since its introduction in June of 2013, likely to do its billing as an exclusive, male-specific product; while Dannon Oikos' Triple Zero Greek Yogurt, the Official Yogurt of the NFL, has taken a more inclusive approach to its marketing, and has thus far seen success.

Women's traditional gender roles have seen a dramatic change as well, with more brands incorporating female empowerment, especially for younger girls, into their efforts. Dornblaser pointed to Procter & Gamble's "Like a Girl" Super Bowl spot as a prime example, as well as Tata Tea's "Power of 49" campaign, which encouraged women in India to vote in the May 2014 general election, resulting in the country's highest-ever voting turnout.

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