The long-term impact of the downturn is slowly coming into view: austerity, mistrust of big corporates and a new resourcefulness characterise the emerging breed of consumer. “The devastation we have seen in the US, the UK and Europe, and places like Dubai has changed people’s value systems,” says Dion Chang, trend analyst and editor of The State We’re In: The 2010 Flux Trend Review. “2010 will signal the beginning of a new world order and although South Africa takes a little while to get up to speed with international developments, there is no doubt that we are going to be impacted by the same trends.
The most significant and dominant trend to emerge, according to Chang, is the rise of civil society and the growth of the civil voice. It’s a movement that is giving rise to new opportunities for entrepreneurs.
“Consumers have found freedom online,” says Chang. “They are able to communicate, to shop comparatively, and to customise just about everything they buy, from bed linen to muesli.
Food For Thought
One sector that is feeling the effects of the new consumer activism more and more is the food industry. With “green” being the watchword in the developed world, moneyed consumers in South Africa are becoming increasingly concerned with the provenance of what they put on their plates.
New Zealand company Icebreaker introduced Baacode in 2008, a system that invites customers to trace their wool garments from the farm through each stage of the supply chain process. In South Africa this year, Checkers introduced lamb products which are traceable back to the farm of origin (known as the “farm to fork” approach) and include an ecological audit to ensure the maintenance of pasture health. These products now account for 50% of all lamb sold at Checkers and Checkers Hyper stores.
“Companies are quickly learning that consumers are becoming stronger and more vocal,” Chang adds. “They will soon not part with their money unless they can be assured that the organisations they interact with practice good corporate governance and eco-friendly practices. Customer loyalty is not about the product anymore; it’s about what the company is doing to reduce its carbon footprint.”
As a result, localisation and regionalisation is set to take off as people focus on local produce, with those who previously dismissed green initiatives finding that consumers are subconsciously pledging allegiance to companies that care about the environment.
“We’re wary of dodgy milk products and bad pet food,” says Chang. “We simply want to know more about stuff. That’s what’s drawing us to old-fashioned food markets.”
With many of the retrenched either being too old to start their careers again or too young to retire, entrepreneurship is set to take off. “Again, it’s about the reassessment of value systems,” Chang says.
The shift, he notes, also results from the fact that people are fed up with banks and big business, which have been blamed for precipitating the global financial crisis.
“With so many people having lost their jobs and now working for themselves, there are major opportunities out there for financial service providers who make it easier for freelancers and the self-employed to have access to facilities like credit and medical aid,” adds Chang. “Entrepreneurs need to spot the gaps and supply the services these people need. The big corporates are simply moving too slowly.”
The good news is that technology now enables people to start up entrepreneurial endeavours much quicker and more cheaply than ever before.
While all the big stuff has been taken care of for 2010, Chang believes there will be a shortage of suppliers for food, transport, flowers, tables and chairs, stationery and other daily requirements. “There’s going to be a last-minute rush. We can expect lots of opportunities for people who are ready and waiting in the wings.”
And after? “We are the first host country to have so many stadia at the seaside,” he says. “All of them offer great views of our beautiful coastline, which is among our greatest commodities. I don’t think any of us realise yet the value that the images of those beaches, broadcast all over the world, will have for South Africa into the future. It’s a good time to own a B&B.”