Why the singles market is the place to be

Where are you going this time? The singles market? Do you mean people who live on their own, or something, ahem, else?

Yes, we’re strictly talking household size here and the enormous rise in people who, either by choice or not, are increasingly living on their own. The last 20, and in particular 10 years, has seen a major jump in the number of so-called singletons. The Guardian reported this week that the number of single-person households has gone up by over a million in the last 20 years to 7.7m. Globally the number of single households increased by 15% between 2011 and 2016 and is expected to make up 18% of all households by 2020, up from 16% in 2016 (IORMA). The percentage varies enormously between countries, with the number of single-person households predicted to rise by 35% in the US from 2000 to 2025, but by over 60% in England from 2006 to 2031 (OECD). The number of single households in Sweden is a staggering 59% and 41% in Finland (Eurostat, 2016).

So why are we looking to live on our own more?

There are number of factors at play here. Younger professionals are waiting longer to get married and are putting off having kids until their early 30s. Those aged 22 to 44 are now five times more likely to live alone (10%) than in 1973 (2%). There has also been a big rise in the number of middle aged divorces and as people live longer it means there are an increasing number of partners who are being left to live on their own. Then there are the one in ten relationships in the UK where people are together but live apart, keeping their independence (Birkbeck). The so-called LAT (living apart together) lifestyle is expected to become more popular, particularly amongst the under-35s.

That’s all very well, but what’s that got to do with anyone trying to sell wine?

Everything. If you’re living on your own it means what you spend your money on is very different to being say in a couple or family. For a start, it means you are likely to have more disposable income. Money that you are likely to spend on yourself. As an increasing number of so-called singletons are choosing to live on their own out of choice, they are far more interested in experimenting, taking risks and looking for self discovery. After all they don’t have to come to a consensus about what they eat, drink or do in an evening. They always have the casting vote. They are also looking to spend their money on different types of product. The electronics world, for example, has embraced the solo user and created bespoke products for them. Like the Petit Drum washing machine from Samsung that has seen sales rise by 30% in the last year.

So what difference does that make to retailers, restaurants or brands?

Look at what you currently offer. How relevant is to someone living on their own? Like solo dining. It’s not just business execs away on a work trip that are looking to eat alone. People are actively going out to dine alone, but how much space does an average restaurant give them to do so? How often are they crammed into parts of the restaurant no couple wants to eat in? We can expect to see more chains like Amsterdam's Eenmaal which claims to be the world's first restaurant that only has tables for one.

How are businesses changing then to cater for your singletons?

Look at the travel industry. There are now travel companies that specialise in putting together packages and offers for the solo traveller. Particularly for more experience or health driven holidays. bookyogaretreats.com research shows 51% of holidays will be taken by people on their own in the next year, including 80% in Germany and 69% in the UK. It also reports a 230% increase in women-only travel companies. There is plenty of help on hand for those that do. Apps like Solo Traveller allow you to tap into what other solo travellers are doing in any particular city you are in, it gives you the chance to meet up to share taxis, advice or just get together for a drink and some food. Hotel groups are setting up loyalty schemes, with specific offers, to attract those travelling on their own.

And food and drink?

If you examine Kantar’s biggest 10 FMCG brands in the UK - Warburtons, Heinz, McVitie’s, Hovis, Kingsmill, Birds Eye, Walkers, Muller, Cadbury’s and Coca-Cola - and look at their NPD innovation over the last 10 years a lot of it has been around creating smaller, snack-size, single-pot packaging formats to cope, in part, with a demand for less calories per product, but also in keeping with the smaller household trend. Nielsen says its research shows that 20% of shoppers are actively seeking out smaller sizes.

Anything else?

The major supermarkets have long looked to cater for the growing singleton market. It also makes good business sense as one-person households are said to consume 38% more products and 42% more packaging, per capita, than a family of four. Tesco claims the meals-for-one market is worth more than £20bn and is looking to increase its single-serve range by nearly 40% this year, up to close to 450 products. It will also include more single portion fresh meat and fish and hand-sized packs of vegetables. The key is to do so whilst still offering value for money and convenient packaging at the same time.

And in wine?

It’s where the sudden demand for 50cl and 37.5cl wine bottles have come from. Yes, we can talk about being responsible and only wanting to have a glass or two a night. But if you are on your own then half a bottle is the ideal size.Then there are the various single serve wine formats with more space in-store for cans and 187ml bottles (up 21% in 2016 in Sainsbury’s) all of which carry the added bonus of offering better margins. But there is much more to do here, and to get sustained growth we will need to see more experimentation, more 25cl formats, for example, and greater willingness from producers, distributors and retailers alike to make single living a major priority in the years ahead.