business news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times features interviews with a number of retailers – including Walmart and Target – in which they assess the impact of the recession and burgeoning unemployment figures on what people are buying.

• Other than private label groceries, the growth of which has gotten significant media attention in recent months, the trends seem to be breaking this way:

• Cheaper beef cuts are more popular, and carbohydrates have been making s comeback because they tend to be less expensive than protein.

• Refrigerated and frozen pizza sales are up, as are the sales of microwave popcorn and popcorn poppers.

• Flat screen TV sales are up, while luggage sales are down. (A new television is a lot less expensive than a vacation.)

• People seem to be buying more seeds so they can plant their own gardens and feed themselves.

• Sales of items like vitamins, supplements and over-the-counter medications are on the rise, as people try to take care of themselves … if for no other reason than people are afraid to take a day off from lest they be discovered to non-essential.

Here’s an interesting one: The Times writes that Walmart CMO John E. Fleming says that sales of baby formula and clothing are up, but that “Walmart could tell when parents were strapped: in the first weeks of the month they buy packs of 88 diapers; by the end of the month they’re buying the 40-pack. And at Sam’s Club, sales of pull-ups — that intermediate step between diapers and underwear — are down, suggesting parents are moving their children directly to underwear to save money.”

KC's View:
Which means, I think, that if you want to look long-term, there will be a burgeoning need for therapists in about 15-20 years as all these kids try to cope with the notion that they were forced into toilet training too soon because of economic pressures.

In all seriousness, virtually all of these shifts suggest new marketing and promotion opportunities to retailers that are willing to be innovative. As has been said here before, people haven't lost their aspirations – they just are being a lot more selective about how they go about fulfilling them. Marketing to a value-conscious consumer doesn’t always mean marketing to the lowest common denominator, I think.