Will Women Relish Their New Role As Chief Thrift Officer?

Betty Crocker Cake mixWhile marketers everywhere are keenly sensitive to how rising gas and food prices are affecting family spending, experts think they may be missing a marketing-to-women sea change. For the first time in decades, women are taking on a role they've never had before--chief thrift officer. The bigger shock: They may even be enjoying it.

Groups like IRI and NPD have reported downturns in sales of convenience products, and an increase in the kinds of strategies most shoppers last heard about in home-ec class in high school, if they're Baby Boomers or Matures. And if they're younger, they're dealing with thrifty concepts that may be entirely novel--eating more leftovers, planning fewer, bigger shopping trips to supercenters, and even baking from scratch. But these aren't Martha Stewart-inspired moments of domestic creativity--so far, they're pure Betty Crocker.



What's interesting, however, is the growing evidence that women seem to be enjoying at least some aspects of these back-to-the-Bisquick initiatives.

"Women like feeling smart and efficient," and enjoy things like finding more ways to save money with "shopping on the way" strategies, says Marti Barletta, president and CEO of TrendSight, a Winnetka, Ill.-based firm specializing in marketing to women.

And in many ways, she says, this economic funk presents more appealing ways to save money. "First, unlike past downturns and recessions that have been driven by job loss, this one is largely centered on gas prices," she says. "So no one feels singled out. Everybody gets a sharp reminder every single time they gas up their car, and no one is immune from this kind of sticker shock."

That gas component may also make women feel clever for doing what they already like to do. "Now, shopping online isn't something that's a little more expensive but more convenient--it's something that's more convenient and costs about the same, when you factor in gas."

Second, some marketers have already made it more emotionally rewarding to shop smart. "The quality of food in these supercenters and stores like Costco is much higher than in past recessions, as are the quality of private label brands," she points out. The Food Marketing Institute reports that 24% of shoppers say they buy private-label brands in almost every single shopping trip, versus 19% in 2007, and 17% in 2006.

Feeling in greater control over the family budget might seem so luxurious to women that The Wall Street Journal recently christened it the "new paradigm of consumerism," predicting that it "will live long after this economic crisis is resolved." Proof, it reports, can be seen in the surging fortunes of such companies as Jo-Ann Fabrics and Michael's Arts and Crafts.

There are some signs that Gen X women, especially, are warming to the CTO role. The Food Marketing Institute reports an increase in coupon use overall--33% of shoppers say they almost always look for coupons now, versus 31% in 2007, and 28% in 2006. But Gen X shoppers are the most likely to use coupons. They are also the most likely to deviate from their shopping list to pounce on a special, and far more likely to buy larger package sizes.

What's next--a surge in home canning? Probably, given the number of consumers who claim to have planted vegetable gardens this spring in response to soaring produce costs. And make room for Spam: Hormel reports that the canned meat classic is selling exceptionally well.

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