Consumer trends: safety, tradition, and nostalgia in a world of uncertainty

We’re living in interesting and uncertain times: the disastrous signs of climate change everywhere, the future of people’s savings, the threat to pensions and the constantly shifting political agendas are a worry for many people throughout the industrialised world. Consumers are reacting to these threats in different ways.

Some – especially the carefree and highly motivated young – are looking for a creative way out of the gloom, seeking adventure, new sensations and freedom. But a growing consumer segment is finding satisfaction and security in their work and their family, and by returning to and reviving old traditions and lifestyles.

Key trends

  • The inner child
  • Embracing tradition
  • Granny’s cookbook
  • Looking backwards
  • No sex, please: we are the Young Fogeys
  • The old in the new

Commercial opportunities

  • Don’t give in to the demand for nostalgic products – the market is already full of brands and products that look backwards. Instead have the courage for the new and the fresh.
  • Consumers need to be stimulated not humoured. Listen to their voices in the blogs, their responses to online articles, and in the social media.
  • As all kinds of crafts are experiencing a renaissance, there is a whole market waiting to be served with quality raw materials and hardware.


It has become a well-worn cliché that the children of the baby-boomer and “68ers” generation, particularly in Europe and the USA, turned their back on all things revolutionary and became the new conservatives.

Their forever-young parents are dismissed as embarrassing and childish, while parents look on aghast as their children worry about pensions, think it important to know whether or not to use a fish knife, get into ballroom dancing, and wear traditional costumes – in short, as they have turned into the kind of people the rebellious post-Woodstock generation did everything to get away from with their Lacoste shirts and penny loafers, their timeless clothes and the new preppy style.

This is hailed by the author of “The Preppy Handbook”, Lisa Birnbach’s updated volume “True Prep: It’s a Whole New Old World”, which gives an image to the new conservatism, so excellently impersonated by the UK’s new Prime Minister, David Cameron. Form and etiquette, high culture and old values are the cornerstones for an ambitious generation.

The inner child

The taste for the old-fashioned and all things vintage showed itself in the roaring success of BBC TV series “Downton Abbey”. To everyone’s surprise, the big budget period drama was watched by a whopping 30% per cent of all television viewers, leaving the snooker with a 6% share, and unwed mother drama, Juno, with an 8% share.

Retro Hotels are all the rage, from 1970s style Kolb Hotel on the German North Sea coast to Burgh Island, an art deco hotel on the UK’s Devon coast. The Times of India reports that media personality Rajesh Arora recently hosted a retro 16th birthday party for his wife Samita: “For me, my wife will always remain the sweet 16 that she was.” The party wore a retro look with outfits straight from the 1970s, and the DJ played music from the 1970s like “Chura Liya”.

Elsewhere, there are signs of a predilection for infantile and retro-cute styles: from the ubiquity of Kath Kidston design in the UK, to the retro Green Gate crockery and fabrics from Denmark. Harry Potter books, written for children, were avidly read by adults standing up in commuter trains.

A picture of Swedish photographer Helene Rydén’s workplace with its playful arrangement of old objects including the Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters, shown on the’s Handmade blog, attracted hundreds of nostalgic comments.

Embracing tradition

For about a decade now, the Munich beer festival, Oktoberfest, has seen a return to people wearing “Tracht”, the traditional lederhosen and dirndl outfits which are hugely popular with old and young people.

Before then, Bavarian youngsters couldn’t get out of their Tracht and into jeans fast enough but now there is a new pride in these traditional clothes and the feeling of “heimat” (home, roots) they represent. Anyone who has been to the “Feria” in Seville, originally a cattle trade fair, must have been impressed by the colourful spectacle of the Sevillana dresses and the solemnity of the horse rider’s cropped jackets and bolero hats.

As Irish journalist Diarmaid Fleming reports “Ireland may be on its knees economically but remains firmly on its feet in cultural terms: A sea of Irish music and dance is sweeping the world”. Ceilidh and Irish set dancing with its stately movements are experiencing a revival and not merely in their native country. One of the hottest trends in Japan is a return to traditional culture.

The site reported in March 2010, that many Japanese men are now showing interest in “sado”, the traditional art of the tea ceremony. Two manga comics featuring the tea ceremony have become bestsellers in recent years. Ocha Nigosu (A Bad Boy Drinks Tea!) is a comical manga about a teenage delinquent who joins the sado club of his high school and gradually rectifies his ways.

Japanese men are also increasingly taking up ikebana (flower arrangement) and traditional musical instruments, such as the taiko (drums), shamisen (three-stringed plucked lute), shakuhachi (end-blown bamboo flute), and koto (13-stringed zither).

Granny’s cookbook

Food blogs are full of traditional recipes, such as Maxivida recycling her grandmother’s old handwritten Serb recipes, US country queen Paula Deen’s Old Country Style Stuffing or Mum’s home-made Christmas cookies that are all over the blog world in December.

Two young female engineers wax lyrical on their 180°C blog about bottling tomato sauce and making marmalade. On her blog, Kerstin Rodgers shows what can be done with an old Aga in the kitchen where she cooks for her Underground restaurant. Molecular cuisine is so last decade: the top chefs are now working on makeovers for traditional recipes and designing vegetable dishes.

Many proudly grow their own vegetables and herbs, like legendary French chef, Alain Passard, who supplies his Parisian restaurant, L’Arpège, with herbs and vegetables grown on his farm in Brittany, or the five Canadian city chefs presented in an article by Nancy Fornasiero in, or British back-to-my-roots chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

In Germany, the discovery of old varieties of turnips and potatoes such as Teltower Rübchen, blue Swedes and Bamberger Hörnla is now exciting the gourmet world far more than oysters, truffle and caviar. And the most sold items in German quality hardware chain Manufactum in 2010 were old glass preserving jars with glass lids.

Global sales of gardening & DIY products: 2003–2008
US$ million

Source: Euromonitor International from trade sources/national statistics.

Looking backwards

There is a new way of turning back the clock as users of modern social media such as Facebook, MySpace or sites like “Friends Reunited” return to their childhood and youth in a nostalgic impulse to find old friends and lovers. “Facebook makes it easier for you to take that first step of finding someone again,” explains Rainer Romero-Canyas, a psychology research scientist at Columbia University. ” It has finally provided a way for people to reach out to someone without fear of rejection.”

The Boston Phoenix came up with a term to describe people who are returning to former loves, calling them “retrosexuals”. An article in Time magazine shows examples of Facebook turning match-maker, as most retrosexual experiences spring from a mixture of nostalgia and interest. “You get a thrill out of finding an old girlfriend just to see if she still likes you,” says W. Keith Campbell, a University of Georgia psychology professor and co-author of “The Narcissism Epidemic”.

Time magazine quotes the story of Elise Garber who ended up marrying the first boy she ever kissed and left behind as a teenage romance. Twenty-two years later, they met again on Facebook. “I still don’t know why I looked him up,” says the 37-year-old former advertising-agency executive in Chicago. Is there a term yet called “retropolitics”?

The desire to look back to the tried and tested instead of embracing the new can be observed in the swell of the Tea Party movement in the United States, harking back more than 200 years for political inspiration.