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Advertising Age reports that a new study by the NPD Group suggests a significant shift taking place in the workforce, one that could have an enormous impact in the way food is sold and consumed.

“Women's participation rate in the paid U.S. labor force topped out at just above 60% in 1999 and again in 2001 but has fallen since then, Ad Age reports. “Restaurant meals, fueled for decades by the migration of moms to the work force, also topped out at 211 per person per year in 2001 according to NPD and likewise have been bouncing lower since, hitting 207 this year.”
KC's View:
The implications seem clear – that if women are staying home in greater numbers, they are more likely to shop in supermarkets rather than use fast food and quick-service restaurants. Of course, for this to work it means that supermarkets are going to have to offer products and services that will appeal to them … and since many of them have no idea how to cook, that means an even greater emphasis on mal solutions programs that work. (As opposed to those that don’t…)

I have to say that I am a little surprised by this report, especially because there is both a housing crunch and credit crisis taking place right now…and those things generally add up to more people in the workforce, not fewer. I don’t get the sense that the nation is enjoying the kind of prosperity that would allow lots of people to get out of the workforce, though I suppose it is possible that these are values-driven, not economics-driven, decisions.

If women are ignoring the troubled the economy, and in fact leaving the workforce because they are making a values-based decision, then that means their families may be less prosperous rather than more so…which also will have implications for the food industry.

Retailers that are seeing all these shifts taking place in their markets need to find out not just that it is happening, but why it is happening. Because depending on the rationale for these shifts, it could have an enormous impact on what these women’s needs are and how they are met.