Over 20 percent of German homes are one-person households. But singles are a very heterogeneous group and therefore pose a particular challenge as consumers.
Shopping for the right amount for one person isn't easy
In Germany, the bestseller “Bridget Jones’s Diary” was translated into “Schokolade zum Frühstück” or “Chocolate for Breakfast.” For many, Bridget Jones personifies the stereotypical image of a single: having chocolate for breakfast and a glass (or more) of Chardonnay for dinner.
But the reality looks quite different.
“Studies on one-person households show that particularly young professionals who earn good money are very interested in fresh products and are more likely to buy brand goods,” said Doris Rosenkranz, a sociology professor at the University of Applied Sciences in Würzburg and author of several publications on consumer habits.
Making single life more convenient
According to figures from the Federal Statistics Office, 20.7 percent of Germany’s adult population -- or 13.8 million people -- live in one-person households. In cities, this figure can reach over 50 percent.
Retailers are aware that they have to address all consumers, including singles, said Olaf Roik from the German Retailers’ Association HDE. “We try to do this through well-targeted marketing, especially in cities which have a higher number of one-person households,” he said.
Pizza isn't the only alternative for singles anymore
German supermarkets have in fact come a long way since frozen pizza was the only option for a quick meal after work. But fast, healthy meals for one-person households are a more recent development in Germany, compared to these markets in the United States or Britain.
Rewe, one of the leading groups in the European grocery trade, said it particularly addresses singles’ needs in city stores.
“We especially offer a lot in the convenience sector, that is food that is ready-to-eat,” said press spokeswoman Astrid Ohletz. “For example, we have fresh soups, sushi or pre-prepared fruit.”
Singles: hip or fate?
Rosenkranz points out that singles are not just students living alone or young professionals, though. “Singles are a very heterogeneous group,” she said. “What is a hip lifestyle for some is fate for another. If you define singles as one-person households, half of them are senior citizens over the age of 55.”
Senior citizens make up half of one-person households in Germany
And it is precisely this group of older singles that feel overlooked as consumers. Older singles, who usually only shop for themselves, suffer from the fact that packaging is so large, for example.
“Smaller portions are disproportionately more expensive and many older singles only have their pension at their disposal,” said Rosenkranz.
As a matter of fact, smaller single-friendly sizes are more expensive. Take your average major supermarket in Cologne: 250 grams of regular butter costs between 0.99 euros and 1.29 euros ($1.31-1.70), depending on the brand. But 125 grams costs 0.79 euro.
Another example is Philadelphia cream cheese. The regular size of 200 grams costs 1.49 euros. But the single-friendly sized six-pack of 16.7 grams each, which comes to about half of the regular size, costs 1.19 euros.
HDE explained that this price difference is not discriminatory against singles. It’s simply due to packaging and logistics costs, which are not necessarily half as great as for a big package. “Large volumes are also less expensive,” said Roik. “That’s just the way it is.”
The “living-alone-together” single
The larger packaging is not necessarily a problem for many younger singles aged between 25 and 35. “These are so-called LATs or ‘living-alone-together’ singles, who live alone, but often have a partner,” Rosenkranz explained. “In terms of consumption, this group often buys for the partner, too.”
Singles prefer to eat their pizza in the restaurant
In addition, LATs spend above-average amounts on eating outside of their home, either in restaurants or with take-away food, she said.
This group of singles is also not interested in the frozen dinners and mini-sized pizzas available on the market. “Our research showed that this type of food mostly appeals to working mothers rather than singles,” said Rosenkranz.
The Internet’s potential for singles
In his book “Consumer behavior in one-person households,” the economic sociologist Wilhelm Ott wrote that eating well is important for the majority of singles.
“For many, eating and drinking express a certain lifestyle,” said Ott. “Especially younger people living alone want to underline the particular quality of their way of life.”
In this sense, the Internet holds a great potential for the singles’ consumer market, said Rosenkranz.
“It would be especially interesting for working singles if they could do their shopping online during the day,” she said. Then, after work, they could simply pay for their groceries and head home.
“Then, there would be more time for cooking good food with your partner or friends,” she said.