business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Because Father’s Day was this past weekend, the news was awash in stories about modern families. And it’s news that the food industry had better read very closely.

Two stories caught my eye. In the first, USA Today reported last week about the changed parenting styles of older men (late 40s to 60s) who are having second families and raising them very differently than their first.

Then on Sunday, the New York Times ran an article on the changing face of today’s American family. More interesting than the article was an interactive feature on the Times website that allows the reader to see how many families are like yours.

I won’t be killing a surprise ending by telling you that the world of families is changing rapidly. The USA Today article painted a picture of these older dads who are far more involved with their second set of children then they were with their first. For a host of reasons, these guys are spending more time with their families, more time with their young children and more time on chores and duties that they simply didn’t take on when they were younger.

Likewise, the Times article and the interactive chart paints a clear picture of the American family that exists today. The “traditional family” of mom, dad and two kids is something of a rarity - making up only 7.25% of today’s households. Even married couples living alone constitute less than 21.5%. Households of just a single male or a single female make up a larger percentage of the population than that.

The picture gets even more complicated. In some parts of the country, retired couples now outnumber those with children. In high cost areas, the percentage of families whose adult-aged children have moved back home during the economic downtown is on the rise. In other words, the picture of a family takes on an incredible number of aspects depending on where you are.

And therein lies the challenge and opportunity for the food industry. The opportunity sends me back to a topic I touched on last week - facing up to the shifts all around us that are moving more shopping trips to late in the day and weekends. That column touched a nerve with reader Kayla Anderson of Minnesota:

“As a 26-year-old urban professional, it’s near impossible to get errands or shopping done. My friends and I constantly gripe about this: Banks close at 5, many retail stores at 9. Cashing a check takes planning and by the time we get to the grocery/mass/clothing store after a long day of work, the staff is sparse and truculent. What I wouldn’t do to go to a store that is expecting me?” Kayla says the same holds for doctors and dentists and she admits she’d gladly pay more for services that fit her schedule.

That’s where the opportunity lies. Especially in tough times, when sales building seems so hard, creativity may win out. It comes in finding a way to cater to these new shoppers whether they are young adults racing through their days or older dads trying to cook to be a bigger part of the family. The needs have changed and the products, services and stores need to change with them.

But don’t overlook the challenges. Local demographic information is more important than ever to ensure that the right products for the right households are on the right shelves each and every day. If your store is set for the “Ozzie and Harriet” family keep in mind that the vast majority of Americans weren’t alive when that television show went off the air, and the only Ozzies they know are either Osbourne or Guillen.

The facts are simple: The Nelsons run ended 45 years ago; 50% of Americans are 36.9 years old or younger. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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