British consumers are now more than ever striving to attain the perceived trappings of celebrity, according to market analysts Datamonitor. Status and fortune, as the company puts it, now appear more attainable than ever to many consumers, and food companies, among others, have been quick to help them achieve these desires.
Datamonitor's Consumer Review 2002 shows that many consumers feel they can bring a little glamour into their lives through such items as speciality foods. "Many consumers turned their backs on bland mass-produced food in 2002, opting for speciality and gourmet retailers instead," said Datamonitor's Yasmeen Khan.
"Affluent, urban media types lead the pack at the moment, accounting for 53 per cent of speciality food and drink spend and making an average of 47 shopping trips per year with a £15.40 spend per visit. However, supermarkets such as Sainsbury's, Tesco and Marks & Spencer have been catching onto the demand for higher quality products with the introduction of more regional and gourmet speciality products appearing on their shelves."
Khan said that the same desire for speciality food had also led to an increase in dinner parties. The UK is now third behind Germany and Italy on the European list for the number of parties, with 313 million gatherings per year, according to Datamonitor.
"By 2006, however, the UK will have moved to second position with 333 million gatherings. For many consumers, showing off is a primary motivation for hosting gatherings and many consumers stated that appearance of food was more important than actual quality, and that they are seeking a 'wow factor' from their guests," said Khan.
"As such, consumers are increasingly willing to accept help from convenience solutions such as frozen desserts, pre-marinated meat and pre-cut and washed salads, although they are keen for convenience products which can be passed off as home-cooked."
Alcoholic beverages are also benefiting from this trend, in particular products such as cognac or champagne which have a quality and price cachet which is well known and understood. Buying such products, and presenting them to guests at dinner parties, for example, is an instant means of 'gaining face' for many consumers.
But all these aspirations do not come cheaply, as the Datamonitor report clearly shows. UK consumers spent £2.4 billion on prestige goods this year, the report claims, much of which was on their credit cards. In fact, by the end of December 2002, UK consumers will have just over £158 billion outstanding on unsecured consumer credit products - an increase of almost 12 per cent since December 2001.
In turn, these increasingly high levels of debt are causing more and more to suffer from stress. For example, 47 per cent of all Europeans now suffer from significant levels of stress, and this in turn often leads to increased spending, with the UK once again leading the way. Consumers in the UK now spend £22 billion per year on purchases to help them unwind and de-stress, from alcohol to cosmetics and luxury foods.
Alcohol in particular is seen as the major 'de-stresser', and consumers in the UK make the most stress-related alcohol purchases across Europe. Consumers also tend to change their choice of drink when stressed - those who drink out when stressed are more likely to choose beer or spirits, depending upon their stress levels, whereas those who drink at home to relieve stress are more likely to drink wine, at all stress levels. One reason for this is that wine can also be viewed as an indulgence - consumers are treating themselves as well as helping themselves to relax.