SEOUL, March 18 (Korea Bizwire) – The rapid increase in the number of single- person households is bringing about great change in consumer behavior. As a result, companies are changing tactics to meet the new market reality.
According to a report from the Segye Ilbo, a Korean daily newspaper, the number of single-person households was estimated at 5.06 million in 2015, which was eight times higher than 30 years ago. Only 26.4 percent of the unmarried population (over the age of 25) lives with their parents, and the number of seniors who live alone (over the age of 65) also increased dramatically, increasing by 13 times over the past 25 years.
In 20 years, single-person households are expected to be the most common living arrangement, exceeding the number of two-generation households (parents and children), which is the most general form of family.
The changes have triggered new consumption trends, also pushing the market to provide new products and services that meet the needs of those embracing this new lifestyle.
The biggest changes have occurred in the food and beverage industry. To meet the demand of downsized households, businesses are providing smaller portions that are also easy to prepare.
Smaller fruits are becoming popular among consumers, turning around the idea that larger fruits are better in taste and quality. The Rural Development Administration is developing and producing smaller breeds of apples and pears – the most popular fruits among Koreans – which will taste as good as the larger ones.
Although consumption of rice is declining year by year, the ‘instant rice’ market is seeing its golden years. As cooking a whole meal for oneself could be too much trouble, pre-cooked products are popular among those who live alone, as they provide a warm and easy meal.
The sector that has benefitted the most, however, is convenience stores. Once popular for booze and cigarette purchases in the middle of the night, or a place where one can quickly buy items needed urgently such as tissues, toothbrushes or feminine hygiene products, convenience stores are now significant players in the retail industry that hold a valuable role in the lives of single people.
Boxed meals have been key to their success. Providing a cheap and easy but also healthy and delicious meal to consumers, sales have seen explosive growth. Convenience store boxed meals were improved through collaborations with famous cooks and celebrities, and the creation of private brands. The products ranked No.1 in sales at CU for the first time since convenience stores opened in Korea.
Increasing the breadth of their offerings over the years from wine to kitty litter, the name ‘convenience store’ seems to serve their function well. GS even has a ‘fresh foods’ corner, which has small portions of meat, vegetables, and fruit on offer.
Though it may be the biggest change, the food market is not the only area showing new trends.
The furniture industry is also broadening its horizons to provide more ‘compact’ products suitable for the smaller living spaces typical of single-person households. Folding tables and beds with drawers are popular products.
Recently, there has been a renewed interest in laundry soap bars at discount stores, even though literally every household has a washing machine. The phenomenon is seen to reflect the smaller quantity of dirty laundry being generated in smaller households. Instead of waiting for laundry to pile up, people are washing socks and underwear right then and there, leading to the purchase of laundry soaps.
However, more changes might need to occur to meet the new lifestyle trend. With 1.4 million seniors over 65 currently living alone, action should be taken at a social level to help those suffering from depression or at risk of dying alone.
By Francine Jung (firstname.lastname@example.org)