Fondly known as the land of opportunity, America’s fabric is a complicated weave of varying identities, aspirations and lifestyles and, despite rising income disparity, new Mintel research reveals that half (49 percent) of all Americans consider themselves “middle class.” Regardless of the perception that their lifestyles are similar to their peers, it seems that the quintessential American Dream has left many consumers wanting more. When considering some of the more traditional middle class values only one third (32 percent) of consumers say they are satisfied with their personal financial situation, just one quarter (25 percent) find their work personally fulfilling, and a mere one in 10 (11 percent) believe their standard of living exceeds their expectations.

When separating consumers by socioeconomic status*, it becomes clear that the average American struggles with more than just finances. Those that fall into the middle class or below are less likely to find personal fulfillment with their work (15 percent low/27 percent middle vs 31 percent high) and more likely to feel they can’t get ahead financially (22 percent low/15 percent middle vs 6 percent high). Regardless of socioeconomic standing, it appears the majority of consumers do not see eye to eye as less than one in five (18 percent) think their values are shared with most Americans.

After a divisive 2016 presidential election and the never-ending news cycle of today, many Americans are left a little shaken as their top concern is the future of the US economy (86 percent). Overall, concerns about the state of the nation are top of mind for most, from the possibility of tax increases (79 percent) and the outsourcing of jobs overseas (68 percent) to immigration (60 percent). However, Mintel research shows that current concerns mirror those of Americans five years ago, indicating that there hasn’t been a dramatic shift in concerns for the country since 2011**.

Despite the fact that seven in 10 (71 percent) Americans are concerned with maintaining their current standard of living, perceptions of financial health remained virtually unchanged 2016-17. More than three quarters of Americans say that their current financial situation is “healthy” or “okay” (78 percent), indicating that most Americans are able to pay their bills on time and have money left over at the end of the month.

“The majority of Americans say their personal financial situations are healthy and stable in 2017, but it appears that many are left wanting more as a large number of consumers are dissatisfied with their lot in life. Despite positive economic indicators, only a small portion say their standard of living exceeds their expectations. This suggests that Americans, including the full half of the country that self-identifies as ‘middle class,’ expect more than the ability to make ends meet; they are looking for more opportunities, work that is personally fulfilling and a community with shared values,” said Dana Macke, Senior Lifestyles and Leisure Analyst at Mintel.

Overall, US consumer expenditures in 2016 increased 3.3 percent over the previous year, with 2-6 percent growth in nearly all of the individual sectors included in Mintel reporting. By 2021, it is projected that Americans’ spending will increase 18 percent.

Mintel predicts that the alcoholic drinks in- and out-of-home and the vacations and tourism categories are the three most robust areas for growth over the next five years. However, not all categories will fare as well, with non-alcoholic drinks, clothing, footwear and accessories, and household care expected to encounter challenges ahead.

Mintel’s annual American Lifestyles report tracks spending across 18 major consumer markets, revealing the categories that present areas of opportunity, disruption and innovation in the years ahead. Highlights from the 2017 report include:

Mixers are tossed for craft cocktails

Innovations such as craft drinks and natural ingredients are driving sales in the alcoholic drinks market. According to Mintel research, the craft share of the US beer category nearly doubled from 5.2 percent in 2010 to 10.2 percent in 2015. Just as the trend toward craft beer is problematic for major beer brands, the trend toward fresh ingredients in cocktails is problematic for premade mixers, which carry a perception of being artificial. Nearly one in five (17 percent) consumers say mixers have too many artificial ingredients, while the incidence of “beverage mixer” as a cocktail ingredient on US menus was down 25 percent from Q4 2012 to Q4 2015.

Ombre trend sees hair coloring sales fade

The ombre hair color trend is leaving its mark as the style allows roots to grow out, and could explain declining usage of salon all-over color services (19 percent in 2015 vs 17 percent in 2016). Similarly, sales of home hair color products declined slightly (-0.5 percent) in 2016, reflective of a highly competitive market and the trend of embracing natural hair color. In addition to salon services, Mintel research shows declining usage in the at-home market (17 percent in 2016 vs 18 percent in 2015), suggesting some are going longer between dyes or skipping it altogether. 

Cashing in on ride-sharing

One quarter (23 percent) of consumers used a ride-sharing service in 2016. Mintel research reveals that ride-sharing programs are the fastest growing mobility option in the US, trending upwards compared to other forms, and 45 percent of consumers say that ride-sharing is the future of transportation. Americans are looking to monetize their own vehicles by driving for ride-sharing services, including 15 percent of Millennials, showing Millennials view ride-sharing as an economic opportunity.

Fit men keep the apparel market active

The apparel industry has been bolstered by an increased acceptance of casualization which has led to a flurry of athleisurewear options. In fact, one in five (21 percent) older Millennials say they have been buying less of other types of clothes in favor of activewear. Men in particular are doing their part to spur growth as 80 percent of men say they are spending more or the same on clothing today, compared to 76 percent of women. What’s more, some 16 percent of men go to stores they normally wouldn’t visit to get exclusive activewear products and brands, according to Mintel research.

Laptops seek solace in hybrid options

Quickly losing its luster, tablet sales are in decline, dropping from $20.5 billion in 2015 to an estimated $18.5 billion in 2016. Mintel research reveals that the majority of consumers say they would rather acquire a new laptop (68 percent) or a new smartphone (58 percent) than a new tablet. However, hybrids present a bright spot for the market as over one quarter (28 percent) of those seeking to buy a new tablet want a combination laptop/tablet with a detachable or foldaway keyboard.

Pursuit of hygge through outdoor living

The concept of hygge and the feeling of comfort and positivity found in everyday experiences is becoming more commonplace in the US, particularly as consumers look to create a comfortable and inviting living space. Today, one quarter (23 percent) of Americans say they love caring for their lawn and Mintel research shows that consumers are allocating more spend toward improving their outdoor spaces. Three quarters (74 percent) of consumers view their outdoor space as an extension of their home and two thirds (64 percent) have hosted some type of event in their home’s outdoor space in the last three years.

*Low, middle and high status are based on a combination of household income, level of education and population density of residential area
**American Lifestyles January 2012, US consumers’ personal concern with economic/financial issues: state of the US economy (91 percent any concern); tax increases (85 percent any concern); outsourcing of jobs overseas (75 percent any concern)

Press review copies of American Lifestyles: Finding Common Ground 2017 and interviews with Dana Macke, Senior Lifestyles and Leisure Analyst, are available on request from the press office.

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