A clear perception of the diverse slices of consumer populations are key to the success of food firms operating in the €3.2 trillion global food industry.
Confirming current marketing knowledge, a new report from Datamonitor asserts that changing consumer values are continuing to influence buying behaviour.
"And that only by understanding the new interpretations of the mega-trends can companies remain 'on-trend' in the long-term," says Daniel Bone, consumer market analyst and author of the study.
The ten trends which Datamonitor believes will impact/shape new products and services to come are the age, gender, lifestage, income complexities together with individualism, sensory, comfort, connectivity, convenience and health.
Convenience Time saving products and 'quick fixes' are important to 82 per cent of European and US consumers. This could explain why prepared meal consumption in Europe and America is forecast to double in ten years, to exceed US$40bn by 2009, up from US$29bn in 1999.
Health An overwhelming majority (90 per cent) of European and US consumers feel that improving health is important.
Confirming growing sales for food firms operating in the functional food domain, the researchers claim that in 2003-04 64 per cent of Europeans and US consumers actually took "steps" to improve their health.
The health 'mega-trend' also continues to be a major driver towards preferences for all things natural and organic.
Annual growth will exceed 10 per cent in the US and European food and drink markets over the next five years.
Strong opportunities for food firms will also lie in the crossover trend between health and convenience (health on-the-go), an area that clearly bears high growth potential.
Age complexity While parents indulge their own childishness, younger consumers are constantly acquiring greater autonomous spending power and developing brand awareness and loyalty at a younger age.
The report recommends that manufacturers offer age defying products that are aligned with the aspirational age of consumers - a desire to be older or younger.
In addition, 'ageless marketing', which targets values and attitudes shared by all generations rather than specific age groups, will be important in appealing to a wide range of consumers, without alienating important groups.
Gender complexity Gender roles are less defined than ever before.
Male dieting and actively seeking out healthier food and drinks characterises how males are defying traditional macho consumption, claims the report.
Datamonitor's survey showed that men were on a par with women in terms of both the level of importance they placed on improving their health through diet, and the extent to which they had actually made behavioural changes.
But the prevailing existence of macho values means that traditional ideals of what it is to be a 'man' persists, and machismo themes still have strong relevance in products such as beer.
Lifestage complexity The notion that the nuclear family stays together through life is still the norm in most countries, but it is changing significantly. Three core trends influencing the lifestage complexity trend include extended time as singletons, extended time spent as older consumers and the phenomenon of boomeranging children.
Income complexity Reflection opportunities in premium food products, lower income and mid-market consumers are increasingly seeking luxury on a budget, and increasingly influenced by the 'democratisation of luxury'.
In recent years, the trend for 'accessible premium' brands has emerged, reducing the high entry barrier that the industry once maintained for premium products.
Datamonitor quotes the "phenomenal success" of brands such as Walkers Sensations as a prime example of how mass market consumers are trading up to higher quality products.
Individualism The large increase in the number of 'singles' in western societies is important, claims Datamonitor, and is reflected in the trend for "looking after me" which centres on self-orientated gratification, reflected in their spending patterns.
Individualism is reflected in consumption by the fact that over half of European and US consumers feel 'brands that match their attitudes and outlook on life' are important.
An overwhelming majority (86 per cent) also felt that 'products and services designed for specific needs' were important and 66 per cent bought more such products in 2003-04.
"Future product concepts will increasingly allow consumers to customise and/or co-create products to suit their preferences."
For example, Kettle Foods recently offered consumers a chance to rate five proposed flavour choices in 2005, to help develop its new flavour.
Sensory Consumers today are seeking out more intense experiences from products and are more willing to experiment with new products.
In 2003-04, over 60 per cent of consumers in the US and Europe indulged in food and drinks that they had never tried before.
"Tapping into fascination with foreign cultures and flavours is also increasingly possible as globalistion drives experimentation," comments Bone.
Comfort Consumers, apparently, are increasingly on the hunt for 'comfort food', with 55 per cent of European and US consumers in 2003-04 admitting to enjoying 'small indulgences to escape the pressures of everyday life'.
On a more ethereal note, Datamonitor attributes this mega-trend, in part, to the growth in ethical consumption to "connectivity needs"; such consumption is about community belonging and demonstrating shared values and attitudes.
"Successful products must be founded on at least one and ideally several of these mega-trends, but the challenge will be maintaining a close eye on how the mega-trends evolve," concludes Bone.