IRI Research Uncovers New Segment of Opportunist Eaters

CHICAGO – Information Resources Inc. (IRI) recently conducted extensive research into Americans' daily eating habits and found that while 79 percent of Americans are planners and eat three "square meals" or several "mini meals" per day, a new segment is emerging of those who eat on the run.

Dubbed "opportunists" by IRI, these eaters represent 21 percent of Americans and they tend to consume food and drink throughout the day as opportunities arise, with little consideration as to whether they're eating a meal or a snack. The latest IRI Times & Trends report, "How America Eats: Capturing Growth with Food on the Run," compares opportunists to planners and outlines strategic approaches for consumer packaged goods (CPG) marketers to win their share of this $90-billion market, according to the researcher.

"The eating habits and attitudes of traditional three-square-meals-a-day eaters have been studied extensively for years," said Susan Viamari, editor of Times & Trends. "While this segment is still important, you simply cannot deny the emergence of this new on-the-go eating segment. Since very little has been uncovered about these eaters, we are addressing how this group's demographic, lifestyle and attitudinal characteristics impact their food and beverage shopping, buying and consumption behavior."

Opportunists come from diverse backgrounds that cut across age, income and household brackets. Two-thirds are female, and 92 percent are of non-Hispanic origin. Nearly two-thirds of opportunists come from a single-member or two-member household, skewing slightly to the lower end of the income spectrum. Many live a bachelor/bachelorette or "dual-income-no-kid" family life, where things are less scheduled. Just less than half are under the age of 45.

While both opportunists and planners take a "moderation is key" approach to healthy eating, planners are more likely to factor healthy eating into their daily habit, IRI found. Opportunists take a more laid-back approach to exercising.

To win over opportunists, IRI recommends learning to understand their value equation. Price is a significant consideration for the majority of U.S. consumers, but it carries more weight in the value equation with opportunist eaters. Thirty-one percent of opportunists tend to buy whatever food or beverages are on sale, compared to just 18 percent of planners.

Available coupons/discounts are also a key influencer of meal/snack decisions for one-third of opportunists, compared to around one-quarter of planners. A higher than average number of opportunists also turn to value channels and retailers such as Family Dollar to do their shopping.

Thirty-nine percent of opportunists grab convenient foods without considering whether they play the role of a meal or a snack, and they do this with nearly triple the frequency of their planner counterparts, IRI found. Additionally, while opportunists under-index compared to planners when it comes to cooking their own food, 49 percent enjoy cooking but look for convenience when evaluating their options. Two-thirds want foods that are quick and easy to prepare, and one-third prefer to eat heat-and-eat or ready-to-eat foods instead of preparing options from scratch.

Because of this, opportunists spent 60 percent more on frozen appetizers and snack rolls vs. planners during the past year, and the category grew by 5 percent among opportunist eaters, IRI reported. These products and a variety of other convenience-oriented CPG categories are expected to continue demonstrating higher-than-average growth among opportunist eaters vs. the market as a whole from 2013 to 2015.

With 66 million opportunist eaters in America, IRI recommends that CPG marketers view all eating and drinking occasions as opportunities, and invest in the following framework:

  • Market Analytics: Invest in market analytics that enable a rigorous evaluation of market potential.
  • Product Performance: Uncover new opportunities with granular analyses of product performance and "what-if" scenarios.
  • Predictive Modeling: Leverage predictive modeling to estimate the value of new growth opportunities.

"IRI's ongoing analyses of changing consumer eating behaviors point to new and evolving opportunities for CPG marketers," Viamari said. "But the only constant is change. The demographic composition of American eaters has and will continue to change, so CPG marketers must stay on top of the evolution of the country's emerging demographic and lifestyle segments to get ahead of the opportunities."

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