From theme funerals to theme weddings, from customized charm bracelets to design-it-yourself shoes, consumers are seeking services and products with a personal touch. In fact, 85 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds wish more products and services were customized, according to a July study from American Demographics and Harris Interactive.
"We're becoming a society of experience junkies," says Joyce Gioia, a business futurist with the Herman Group, a consulting firm in Greensboro, North Carolina. "If we can have it our way, it's a better experience for us." Gioia sees a future complete with "experience designers," who will custom-tailor products to customers.
The Net is tailor-made for personalization. General Mills' Mycereal.com lets users create their own cereals, and Mcycles.com's software helps people design their own motorcycles. But you don't need the Internet; you just have to think creatively. Restaurants like Boston's Fire+Ice and New York City's Craft are eschewing menus and letting customers create their own meals. So let your mind wander, and get personal.
Only a few years ago, Thai and Korean dishes were mysterious to most Americans. Today, they're mainstream. In fact, according to the National Restaurant Association, Caribbean and Middle Eastern dishes are now more popular than more traditional alternative cuisine, like French and soul food. Welcome to the age of the ethnic eater, where anything exotic gets some space on the plate.
So what will pique consumers' palates in 2002? Apparently, anything that goes beyond your run-of-the-mill ethnic dish. "[Americans] want to take it to the next level," says Stoneybrook, New York, food writer Ramin Ganeshram.
That means targeting regions within regions and creating new fusion dishes. Argentinian, Cambodian, Chilean, Cuban-Chinese and Malaysian: All of these types of cuisines will grow in popularity. Another business opportunity: ethnic groceries specializing in ingredients from all over the world, all offered in one convenient place. It's a market yet to be cornered.
Pop quiz: What do you get when you combine the words "boomtown" and "suburb"? The answer is "boomburb," an outlying area that's big and growing fast, with consistent double-digit population increases over the past few decades. A boomburb is home to between 100,000 and 400,000 residents yet still feels distinctly suburban. According to a June Fannie Mae Foundation study, there are at least 53 boomburbs, and the list is expanding, particularly in the West.
These places are booming with opportunities, says Robert E. Lang, director of urban and metropolitan research for the Fannie Mae Foundation in Washington, DC, and co-author of the study. Interior decorating, landscaping, building suppliers, baby products stores, day care-anything to do with servicing or constructing new households is hot. The outlying subdivisions of these boomburbs still need the basics, Lang says, making franchises or locally owned fast-food joints a big deal. Lang says many of the commercial strips near these residences haven't filled out yet, so they'll make great places to set up shop.
What Do You Think?
Are our picks for what's hot in 2002 on target or way off base? Tell us what you think.
- Restaurants that let patrons create their own meals: FiRE+iCE and Craft Restaurant
- Mcycles: This company lets consumers design their own motorcycles.
- The Hobby Industry Association: Offers research, stats and more on the hoppy and craft industry
- National Restaurant Association: Check out research, trends and the online version of Restaurants USA magazine
- TrendsAnalytics: The site for Food Critic David Pursglove and his company, TrandsAnalytics, reports on food trends.
- The EatEthnic.com: This site offers fun ethnic food facts, food quizzes and other information.
- Fannie Mae Foundation study on boomburbs
- Boomburbs of note: Bellevue, Washinton, Mesa, Arizona and Santa Ana, California