18 December 2015
"Sex and the City" got at least one thing right about single women: They have an impressive amount of disposable income, a fact that marketers should take to heart. And they have more than just Manolo Blahniks in their shopping bags: An estimated 31 million single women ages 27 and up spend $50 billion per year in the U.S. on food and beverages according to trend-watcher Phil Lempert.

Called “Indie Women” by Lempert and others, their career-centered and childfree lifestyles were dubbed “Otherhood” by author Melanie Notkin in a book-length portrait of the 19 million American women ages 20-44. These women spend twice as much as the average woman on hair and makeup; take longer, more frequent and more exotic vacations; and spend luxuriantly on themselves at grocery stores—an estimated 35 percent more per capita, reports Notkin.

Another reason single women spend more is that it’s simply harder to shop for one. Many items—milk and bread, to name two—are better values when bought in larger sizes. Some manufacturers are right sizing to meet the makeup of modern households, but for now, singleton shopping remains more expensive.

Yet while we’re seeing more single women take center stage in shows like “Girls” and “The Mindy Project,” marketers have failed, by and large, to speak effectively to this group or to put them at the center of their own advertising. Some 40 percent of women shoppers ages 20-44 are childfree, yet the loving and dutiful mother archetype dominates grocery store signage, food and beverage packaging and advertising. The modern reality is that women of childbearing age are almost as likely to deposit a purse in the front basket of their shopping carts as they are toddlers.

Ironically, the motherhood trope is so dominant that even moms say they wish companies would depict them without their children sometimes, notes Thimon De Jong, of the Dutch strategy consultancy TrendsActive, “Mothers are also autonomous career women, adventure seekers, sisters, daughters and friends,” De Jong says, “and they respond positively to products and advertising that acknowledges the full spectrum of their lives.”

When single women do appear in advertising, they frequently are shown in pursuit of a man, unfulfilled and incomplete, notes Notkin. The reality is that most women have strong social networks and should be viewed as social media influencers who are persuadable through campaigns that seek to address their challenges and communicate their point of view.

Here are some demographic facts to help food and beverage manufacturers, marketers and retailers to connect with this powerful and free-spending consumer group:
  • Concerned about their health and their appearance, single women want to cook for themselves, but due to busy work and social lives, don’t always have time. When they aren’t picking up takeout, semi-homemade meals appeal to this group on work nights. They buy simmer sauces, foundational soups and meal kits that let them assemble and combine fresh and prepackaged elements with the speed of delivery pizza but with the healthier satisfaction of fresh and homemade.
  • The reason this time-pressed group spends 35 percent more on food is that they are willing to pay for single-serve grab-and-go convenience and don’t shy away from treating themselves to the best the grocery store has to offer.
  • Although they don’t mind splurging, single women are attracted to deals and e-coupons and love to shop in person and online. This group spends an average 28 hours per week on social media, according to a study conducted by public relations firm DeVries Global as reported by Forbes.
  • Among the brands doing well with single women are FreshDirect, Airbnb and JetBlue, because they approach these consumers as independent adventurers, explorers and tastemakers in their own right, says Kate Bolick, author of a groundbreaking November 2011 Atlantic article about this demographic group, “All the Single Ladies.”
The ranks of single women are projected to swell to 50 million by 2035, according to Marketing Daily. Considering that some 59 percent of all women—both married and single—say they feel misunderstood by food marketers, according to the website She-Conomy, that signals there is substantial room for improvement in efforts to attract their attention and earn their loyalty and food dollars.

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