Burgeoning Single Population Changing the Face of Packaging
By Tamara E. Holmes
Once upon a time in the eyes of brand marketers, the single population was largely made up of people who were in a transition stage. Singles were newly graduated college students embarking upon life, divorced people living solo between marriages and elderly people idling before going to live with family or a care-giving organization.
Today, that is no longer the case.
“Now single is a life state for a lot of people,” says Candace Corlett, a principal with marketing research firm WSL Strategic Retail. “People in their 50s who are single, widowed or divorced can stay that way for 40 years and still be out there shopping and filling their pantry. And the same thing with younger people graduating from college—they can be in that single life state for 15 years or for their whole life.”
So what does that mean for brand marketers and package designers?
“Single people need to be considered as if they will be there for a long time. They are not in transition to another life stage, and they’re going to need to be satisfied,” Corlett says.
Indeed the single population is growing at a fast clip. According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, 26 percent of the nation’s households consist of one person. Only 24 percent of the nation’s households have four or more people, meaning there are more single households than there are large families. As a result, marketers and package designers who have been concentrating on creating packaging that offers more product to bulk shoppers are having to rethink their strategies.
No one can blame marketers and packaging professionals for focusing on the bulk shoppers. Warehouse club-style stores have flourished in recent years.
To capture this audience, package professionals have been coming up with larger and larger containers to appeal to shoppers that use a lot of every product and want more value for their money. Now, the Census figures and consumer sentiments are pushing package sizes in the opposite direction.
The year of the individual
One of the most noteworthy trends when it comes to marketing to consumers is that of “empowering the individual,” says Myra Stark, a member of the Strategic Planning Group for Saatchi & Saatchi. In a report titled 2004: The Consumer Context, Stark writes, “Over one-quarter of Americans are living alone. The high divorce rate and the presence of blended families as well as single-parent families have been accompanied by changes in social attitudes. All kinds of family structures are now accepted.”
As singles continue to rise from backseat status to the forefront of the American economy, they are demanding that retailers cater to them and they’re using their wallets to do so. While 70 percent of single-person households have an income of less than $50,000, according to a survey performed by WSL Strategic Retail, singles have the freedom to make all of the buying decisions, and they get to spend the bulk of their money on themselves. At the same time, the lack of a second income means singles are responsible for all of the expenses that come with running a home, so they tend to be cost-conscious—and this is an area where packaging professionals have the most to offer the single consumer.
In many food categories, so much of a product is packaged together that single-person households can’t possibly use it all up. Think condiments such as ketchup and mayonnaise or even an item as commonplace as a loaf of bread.
“It’s a built-in waste factor and it deters [customers] from buying,” says Corlett. “You can see with the bread and the baked goods why singles would not buy pre-packaged food because they know that they won’t use it up.”
Non-perishable portions
One strategy food packagers have come up with is designing bags that can be resealed once opened, which promotes freshness and allows food to last longer. Other packagers are making containers progressively smaller. H.J. Heinz Company, for example, has unveiled a number of new bottles targeting different segments of the market including squeezable upside-down bottles that hold as little as 20 ounces of ketchup.
Condiment makers, in fact, have arguably the most opportunity since people tend to use their product in small doses anyway, and single person households may refrain from buying them at all if they can only get mega-jars. Some condiment companies have already started downsizing. Kraft Foodservice Mayonnaise, for example, can be purchased in 8 fl oz bottles, one-fourth the traditional 32 fl oz bottle size.
Other product areas have done a particularly good job of accommodating smaller households.
“The whole personal care and over-the-counter medication business is positioned well for singles,” says Corlett. “You can buy an 8-ounce bottle of shampoo and it doesn’t go bad. With paper goods, you can buy one roll of paper towels or you can buy 12 rolls of paper towels. There’s a lot of choice there.”
Indeed, several brands in the personal care market have managed to start carving out a niche in the single-person household market. Procter & Gamble’s Head and Shoulders shampoo, for example, is available in both 13.5 fl oz and 25.4 fl oz bottles. Unilever has begun pushing Dove Body Wash, which is more conducive to single-person households, since it comes in one container, than it is to large families for which multi-packs of soap would be the more economical bathing choice.
Procter & Gamble’s Scope mouthwash is another product that has seen a reduction in size. Recognizing that 33.8 fl oz of mouthwash could be a bit excessive for one person, the company markets mouthwash in smaller sizes including a 16.9 fl oz bottle.
A number of brands in the food packaging arena have also begun to take notice of and capitalize on this trend. Coffee is one category that is ripe for a single-savvy approach, and consumers can already purchase coffee “singles”, pre-measured pillow or pouch packages of grounds that can be used to brew a single cup of coffee.
Individually packaged slices of pie and other desserts are another offering that makes sense for the smaller household. Rather than purchasing an entire pie that serves eight, consumers can opt for a smaller package of two ready-to-eat slices.
The beverage industry is another one that has adapted to smaller households. In fact, beverage packaging professionals have been decreasing sizes since the 1990s when 20-ounce bottles started to replace two- and three-liter bottles, says Doug Robinson, vice president for marketing for Constar International Inc., a designer and supplier of PET containers for beverage makers.
Single psychology
Convenience isn’t the only thing marketers should consider when designing packaging that appeals to single people. There is quite of bit of psychology involved, as well. Single people want their lifestyle to be respected in the form of packaging that’s made with them in mind, but they don’t necessarily want their singleness to be flaunted in their faces.
Corlett compares being single to being over 50. People over 50 often would prefer not to have their age emphasized. Likewise, single people aren’t necessarily looking to broadcast their single status.
“They don’t necessarily want it to be advertised that they are single and alone,” says Corlett. “The most socially acceptable cohort to be in this country is young and married with children. So I think, rather than targeting single people, that it would be smarter to target or to emphasize the benefits that single people want.”
So unlike family-oriented brands or those targeting pet lovers that may use images of children or pets to catch their target audience’s eye, packaging geared toward singles should not contain visuals that scream that the buyer is single. Instead, visuals should give the consumer an idea of a benefit he or she will receive. For example, rather than focusing on the fact that a resealable bag makes it easier to enjoy more meals for one, focus on the fact that the resealable bag keeps food fresher for a longer period of time.
Into the future
As marketers and packaging professionals move forward, the number of single-person households is only expected to rise. With the Baby Boomers aging, look for a rise in the number of widows and widowers that will move into single status.
The bottom line is that an increasing number of singles are no longer viewing their social status as a transition, where they are willing to make do with whatever packa­ging is available until they can trade their single status for a sport utility vehicle and a family. They are adjusting to their lifestyles and demanding that manufacturers and retailers accept it. BP
Where to go for more information...
PET containers. At Constar International Inc., contact Doug Robinson at 215.552.3722 or visit www.constar.net.
Market research. At WSL Strategic Retail, contact Candace Corlett at 212.924.7780 or visit www.wslstrategicretail.com.
Market trends. At Saatchi & Saatchi’s Strategic Planning Group, contact Myra Stark at mstark@saatchiny.com.

Beverage packaging responds to single-friendly market
While product manufacturers work to keep their products relevant to single-person households, the beverage industry can be viewed as an early success story.
From his vantage point as vice president of marketing for bottle supplier Constar International Inc., Doug Robinson has watched the industry respond to consumer cries that huge bottles lead to waste.  
“When you go back and look at the history of PET (polyethylene terephthalate bottles) in most industries, it started out with the larger packages because it was most economical in those sizes,” Robinson says. The first major change bottle designers made was the move from glass to plastic. Then they went from three-liter bottles to two-liter bottles and then moved down to the 20-ounce bottles, thinking customers would prefer lighter packaging.
But it wasn’t so much about weight as it was about carbonation retention. When beverage packagers started selling six-pack 20-ounce bottles, customers were buying them, Robinson says, because they were able to get more of the beverage without having to deal with an opened bottle that turns stale.
“The two-liter and three-liter bottles are called party packages. They're bought by people who are going to consume them all at one time and are going to have people over or the kids are going to have friends over or something like that,” Robinson says. “For just general, everyday use, consumers would rather buy the six-pack.”
In a report published by the Closure Manufacturers Association, Robinson points to PepsiCo Inc. as a company that understands the single consumer. After conducting consumer research, the company found that consumers thought that 12-ounce cans and 20-ounce bottles contained too much soda to drink in one sitting.  As a result, Pepsi has introduced 8-ounce cans in six-packs and 18-packs. The company also developed a 14-ounce bottle.
PepsiCo isn’t alone, as The Coca-Cola Company has also introduced a 13.4-ounce PET bottle. The bottled water industry has also seen consumers flock to smaller sized bottles that they can drink in one sitting, as opposed to larger bottles that they have to tote around all day.
The main lesson package designers have learned is that consumers value convenience.
“The number of single households is growing, household size is declining. That predictably is going to increase the amount of convenience packaging because you’re buying for fewer people,” says Robinson. “Certainly it’s a cultural shift.”