Are you an "E-litist?" Or a "Karma Queen"?
If you look closely enough, you might find yourself part of a "microtrend" that influences the types of food people are buying, said Ron Rentel, founder of Consumer Eyes, a New York-based marketing firm. His company specializes in identifying influential consumer types, which he calls "C-Types," and helps clients tailor products to these consumers.
In his book, "Karma Queens, Geek Gods & Innerpreneurs" (McGraw Hill, $24.95), Rentel outlines nine C-types. He discussed five of the types who are most influential in food marketing during a seminar in Dallas last month, sponsored by the Dallas Morning News and the Pillsbury Bake-Off.
Rentel described today's mass audience as "fractured," with many small markets.
"If you go online and see what people are reading, it's amazing how you can pinpoint all of these special niches," said Rentel.
Instead of relying on focus groups or surveys, staffers follow people through their daily lives in real-world settings.
"No matter what a consumer might say about her condiment usage, there's no substitute for opening up her fridge and seeing a crusty bottle of hot sauce on the back of the shelf and a well-used bottle of mayonnaise up front," he said. "When we helped V8 develop V8 Splash, the key insights surfaced at a juice bar in Walnut Creek, Calif."
Marketing companies tend to focus on consumers with money to spend, and who also influence how others spend. And despite the slowing economy, they will continue to spend.
"The luxury market isn't going to go away," said Rentel. "I don't think Whole Foods is going away because of the economic downturn."
Once you're familiar with the various C-types, it can be amusing to spot ads that target them. For instance, realization might dawn that that those silly TV beer commercials are geared to "Middlemen," the single, 18- to 30-year-old guys who haven't quite grown up yet.
"Middlemen have shaped our popular culture, because they've had a huge impact on what people think is funny right now, and the kind of shows on TV and the films that reap big profits," Rentel said.Do you recognize any of the following C-Types? They could be your neighbor, a co-worker, a fellow PTA parent, or they could even be you.
"Green is the new black" is their motto. E-litists are ages 25-55 and upper middle-class, so they can afford to juggle environmental values with a penchant for luxuries.
"They want the badge of green but don't want it to get in the way of convenience or premium quality," said Rentel. "Ten to 15 years ago, if you tried to sell green, it didn't work. Now it's a marketer's dream."
Products that have successfully tapped into the eco-friendly mentality include Stonyfield Farms' organic yogurt, Brita water purifiers, Niman Ranch natural beef and anything made with hemp or acai berries. Favored brands include Amy's Kitchen, Annie's Homegrown and Newman's Own Organics.
Buzzwords that add to a product's cachet are "local," "organic," "sustainable," "biodynamic" or "natural." Never mind that a lot of today's top organic brands are actually owned by large corporations.
"If there's a single store that delivers everything the E-litist consumer wants, it's Whole Foods Market," said Rentel. "It offers customers the best quality foods and food products, beautifully arranged in a clean, chic setting."But, he added, "There's a reason the chain is sometimes called 'Whole Paycheck."'
They see parenting as a life mission and are obsessed with protecting and pushing their kids.
"They act out of love to assure their kids' security and happiness, yet often deny them the ability to experiment and fail, and the freedom to waste time and be carefree," said Rentel. "They push the kids to achieve and accomplish but almost take away what it is to be a child."
Parentocrats have always existed, but the C-Type is on the rise, said Rentel. They are usually upper- or middle-class, in order to afford music lessons, sports trainers and computers. The older a couple is before having children, the more likely they are to fall into this C-Type.
They try to monitor everything their children eat and worry about pesticides, chemicals and allergies. Hence, there's a huge potential to promote products as wheat-free, dairy-free, chemical-free and so on. Sales of organic baby food have soared since 2000, Rentel said.
"What we're hearing as the next big thing is the cognitive benefits of certain foods, or 'feeding the brain,"' said Rentel.
He gave as an example an ad, "Kellogg's keeps 'em focused," that touts Shredded Mini-Wheats."Probiotics are hot, hot, hot," he added, referring to foods such as yogurt and cheese that contain bacteria that benefit the digestive tract and the immune system. The market has boomed with probiotic supplements, snack bars, drinks, baby formula and chocolate.
Many of these young single men still live with their parents, said Rentel, using the example of Matthew McConaughey's character in the movie, "Failure to Launch."
"They are products of the '70s and '80s, possibly the parents divorced, and they were somewhat pampered or without a male role model as they grew up, " said Rentel.
They're also called "Rejuveniles," and their popular pastimes include video games, Fantasy Football and hanging out in bars as their home away from home. Food indulgences include alcohol, fast food, energy drinks and junk food.
Guys ages 18-34 account for 70 percent of McDonald's sales, Rentel said.Taco Bell's "Good to Go" ad campaign in 2006 showed parents using Taco Bell food to lure their grown son off the couch and into a waiting car loaded with his belongings. The company's "4th Meal" campaign was also aimed at Middlemen's late-night eating habits. Domino's targeted Middlemen by printing the Monday Night Football schedule on its pizza box tops.
These are socially conscious women, usually around ages 40-59, who desire harmony with the universe but also appreciate material pleasures. You'll find her with a rolled-up yoga mat, or putting organic groceries into the trunk of her VW Beetle. They are into health and wellness, idealism and spiritualism. Some A-list Karma Queens include Shirley MacLaine, Madonna, Stella McCartney and Gwyneth Paltrow.
"She is ecologically minded, but she cares about how she looks, and she likes to pamper herself at the spa or with some nice tea," Rentel said.
She's into alternative medicine, including nutrition, herbal supplements, relaxation tapes, exercise and acupuncture.
Many Karma Queens are vegetarian, and they prefer natural or organic products. Their purchasing decisions are made with both their brains and their souls, so they seek out brands such as Newman's Own, which supports charitable causes.They also buy Fair Trade coffee, which certifies that the coffee growers received a living wage. If they indulge in chocolate, it's high-end, artisan, vegan or single-origin, with brands like Valrhona and Scharffen Berger. Like E-litists, they gravitate to brands such as Amy's Kitchen and Annie's Homegrown. Activia yogurt, touted for its probiotic digestive benefits, is another big hit.
These are late teens to mid-20s, with global influences that cross racial, class and ethnic boundaries.
They are techno-savvy, and with Internet sites giving them access to cultures all over the world. Some have taken a gap year off during college to travel, or they've studied a non-traditional language such as Arabic, Chinese, Farsi and Hindi.
Their fashions can be Indian batik or African beads, but Japanese designs are prized more than any other.They have global tastes in food: Cuban, Scandinavian, Thai, Moroccan, Greek or Japanese. They are into exotic beverages, such as sake (Japanese rice wine), Cuban mojito cocktails, Japanese energy drinks or Boba tea. Also known as "bubble tea," this Taiwanese fruit-flavored concoction has edible pearls of tapioca suspended inside it.