Want to make the most of this year? You’re going to need to know what your customers want. Delivering the right thing at the right time is a surefire route to success, but your groundbreaking product or innovative service will fall flat if you don’t pick the right moment to launch it. The easiest way to know what people want is to ask them, but observing their behaviour may be just as useful. Here are a few emerging consumer trends you may want to take advantage of:
Single-serve coffee sales have tripled since 2011, but 95% of “pods” are unrecyclable, leaving hundreds of millions of pounds of trash. Waste like that—and the guilt we feel when we create it—represents an opportunity for Toronto-based TerraCycle, which recently launched Zero Waste Box, Canada’s first-ever waste-free recycling system. Customers purchase one or more of 69 different boxes, each designed for a distinct recycling stream—e.g., makeup, paper or, yup, coffee pods—and fill it for UPS to collect for recycling. The service isn’t cheap: Boxes range from $60 to $180 each, a fee that TerraCycle hopes wealthy, environmentally conscious consumers will be willing to pay to keep their Tassimo discs out of a landfill.
PREPARE FOR THE MICROBIOME REVOLUTION
The human body plays host to 100 trillion microbes—mainly bacteria that live in our digestive tracts—and scientists increasingly believe all that skittering stuff in our guts plays a critical role in physical and mental health. Research activity into the human “microbiome” is exploding and creating opportunities in the areas of food, medicine and beauty treatments (cosmetics giant L’Oréal is reportedly studying how altering certain strains of human bacteria could improve spotty or greasy complexions, for instance). The relatively new field just got a big boost: International researchers have announced the creation of a massive database of microbial genes that will constitute a reference for all research on gut bacteria. What it means for business—or will soon—is mind-boggling new possibilities in sectors like personalized medicine and nutrition.
BID GOODBYE TO MEAT
Can North Americans live without meat? This is the year a bunch of new ventures will try to convince us we can. But it’s less certain whether consumers will embrace what many are offering as a substitute: crickets. At least 25 small companies are selling or preparing to sell cricket-based food products in North America, including Next Millennium Farms, an edible-insect-promoting venture north of Toronto with a “bug bistro” that sells items like honey-mustard-seasoned roasted crickets. The bulk of their sales, though, come from flour made of ground—protein-rich—crickets. Even if consumers aren’t ready to add insects to their dinner menus, many do seem to be electing to eat meatless options. Chipotle test-marketed a tofu burrito, for instance, in 2013, and found sales so encouraging that it’s rolled it out across the chain.
Stereotypical gender roles are so 2014. These days, smart retailers are ignoring the boy-girl divide. In the U.K., tony depart ment store Harrods introduced a gender-neutral toy department, and Marks & Spencer eliminated all gender-specific packaging and marketing of toys. Closer to home, a new online retailer based in Toronto aims to sell only gender-neutral clothes, while another startup, Greyscale Goods, promises to send subscribers an assortment of items selected from “androgynous brands.” Want further proof that gender-neutral is the next big thing? Lena Dunham, creator of the HBO show Girls, is making a documentary about New York–based tailors who specialize in creating “non-gender-conforming” clothes. Watch your back, Victoria’s Secret.
GLAM UP GEEKWEAR
Tech experts predict Canada will import 8.5 million units of wearable tech—think Apple watches and Fitbit fitness trackers—by 2018. Fashion experts advise producers to fab it up fast to appeal to fickle fashionistas. The quest to create chic wearables is already charging ahead: Fitbit, in collaboration with Tory Burch, designed a brass pendant and bracelet to subtly house its tracker; Ringly is an 18-karat semi-precious-stone ring that vibrates with your phone notifications; and the much-hyped Google Glass, far too Back to the Future for most, is being redesigned by Diane von Furstenberg. Sleek tech is so far a tough sell to the stylish, but when and if a lucky product finds the perfect combo of functional and fashionable, the market is there for the taking. This article is from the Opportunities 2015 Special Report in the February 2015 issue of Canadian Business.