Spring has sprung, and with it a whole new host of consumer insights and signals to unpack and understand. This season, we’re answering questions like: how is WFH impacting the leisure economy? Why are consumers gravitating toward “dirty” beauty rituals? And what does the backlash against “Almond Moms” say about attitudes toward diet culture?
Below delve into 3 consumer insights that got us talking in April in May 2023, with actionable takeaways for brands.
1. Is your brand taking advantage of the afternoon fun economy?
The pandemic has had a lasting impact on how people work. Being able to work flexibly and remotely has become an important driver of job satisfaction for many, and WFH remains popular three years after stay-at-home orders were first introduced. A new study on the US workforce, for example, finds that over one-quarter (27%) of paid full days in early 2023 were worked from home, up from 5% in 2019, and around 40% of full-time workers are in fully WFH or hybrid roles (source: Stanford University).
With less time spent commuting and flexible working arrangements becoming normalised, a new trend is emerging in which leisure activities and life tasks are being incorporated into the working day. What was once reserved for outside of work hours (or the weekend) is now being blended into the 9-5. This has become more widely discussed, and its effects are beginning to be felt.
A recent 27-country study by the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that average daily time savings when working from home is 72 minutes, which is perhaps unsurprising given the long commutes many endure. According to the study, 40% of the time saved is spent on additional work and 11% on caregiving. About one-third (34%) of the saved time is spent on indoor and outdoor leisure activities, and this rises to over 40% among workers in Spain and Germany.
Which activities are consumers incorporating into the working day? According to a new study by researchers at Stanford University, one beneficiary of what’s been dubbed the “afternoon fun economy” by New York Times writer Emma Goldberg is golf. The study concludes that a recent boom in the sport in the US has been driven by remote workers choosing to take part on weekdays, with 143% more golf being played on Wednesdays in 2022 than in 2019. According to one Phoenix golfer quoted in the study: “You can’t tell the difference between the week and weekend. The place is totally packed all the time every day, late afternoon it’s jammed.”
Golf is unlikely to be the only winner of more evenly spread consumer demand across the working week. The authors of the Stanford study point to opportunities in other leisure activities like shopping and gyms as well as personal services including beauty treatments and hairdressing. Meanwhile, according to another study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, younger Americans are using saved commuting time for social events or eating at bars and restaurants, while older groups are allocating more time to domestic tasks including childcare, DIY and meal preparation.
– These changing habits may lead to a shift in traditional peak demand pressure points, as consumers spread their spending and attention more evenly throughout the week. We see here a reminder of the value of the daytime economy (particularly in areas close to where people live or inside people’s homes), and the opportunities in engaging a sizeable audience of hybrid workers. This includes those who prefer to relax and socialise during the day rather than during the evening. We think here of parents perhaps unable to afford evening after-hours childcare, or those who prefer sleep and sobriety to drink-fuelled late nights.
– We describe the trend towards a more flexible approach to life in our trend Personal Pace. While many employers have been willing to accommodate this shift by offering hybrid and flexible working options, a more leisure-filled working day (with workers starting early or finishing late to accommodate new leisure activities) could pose a challenge to productivity and cohesiveness. See how companies will overcome this challenge in our Work shift Desynchronised Workplace.
2. Move over “clean beauty” – wellness is dirty now
22 April was Earth Day, which raises awareness of the need to protect the planet. And one industry that’s benefitting more than ever from consumers’ desire to connect to the great outdoors is health and wellness. While mud baths and organic products are nothing new, this latest iteration of “dirty wellness” leans heavily into the notion that human health and planetary health are deeply intertwined. Serums formulated from peat, spa treatments involving immersing the body in soil, and health food produced using regenerative farming techniques are just some of the offerings capturing consumers’ attention.
In the beauty sphere, Irish brand Bog Skincare uses organic peat as a basis of all of its products. According to Bog’s website, the peat they work with contains “the highest concentration of natural antioxidants discovered anywhere in the world”, with key minerals like zinc, copper, magnesium, iron and manganese helping to revitalise skin. A study in the journal Plants highlights the potential for using organic biomass and agri-food waste in skincare, with these substances shown to contain powerful antioxidants. And brands like Lush, Davines and OWAY are using regenerative and biodynamic farming methods to grow their soil-friendly ingredients.
We see this connection between nature and wellness in our data too. Globally, 49% of consumers said in March 2022 that they planned to spend more time in nature in the next year. Among daily moisturiser users, that rises to 55%. There is also widespread consumer interest in outdoor wellness routines and rituals like forest bathing and awe walking – a stroll in which the participant intentionally shifts their attention outward instead of inward. And 46% globally (nine-country average) cite nature-based activities such as walking or gardening as a regular self-care solution (source: Foresight Factory, 2022).
– Research shows that the benefits of dirty wellness go beyond skincare. As we explore in our Health and Wellness shift Immune System Security, the microorganisms found in soil also improve the immune system, leading to increased microbial diversity on the skin and in the gut. As more evidence emerges to support this, we expect to see a growing number of consumers turning to the natural world – dirt and all – for holistic health and wellbeing support.
– Beauty and health aren’t the only areas of life that are being rewilded by nature enthusiast consumers. We’re also seeing this phenomenon across food, travel, alcohol and the home. For instance, #forestcore has more than 320,000 posts on Instagram and 240 million views on TikTok, with users sharing their appreciation for nature-inspired design aesthetics. For more on this, read our sector shift Nature Comes Home.
– Everyday Celebration – one of our energised trends for 2023 – delves into the consumer desire to find joy and excitement in the day-to-day, with a growing calendar of events providing excuses to have fun. Even beyond nature-focused occasions like Earth Day, how might your brand facilitate celebration and connection among nature-loving customers?
3. Who are “Almond Moms”, and why are they being skewered on social?
“Almond Mom” has become part of TikTok’s cultural vernacular. The term, which has risen to popularity in recent months, refers to a mother with restrictive health and eating habits that she pushes on her children, especially daughters. One such habit is to respond to a child’s declaration of hunger by offering just a few almonds as an ideal snack, or suggesting that they’re not hungry but rather just bored or thirsty.
Calling out almond mom behaviours – the hashtag has more than 400 million views on TikTok – is part of a broader trend of criticising toxic diet culture, especially practices popular in the 90s. Millennials are sharing their experiences growing up in a culture that prized thinness above health, having to contend with the Kate Moss-endorsed notion that “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” alongside diets that preceded the body positivity movement, like Jenny Craig and Atkins. Indeed, our data shows that it’s Millennials who still monitor their calorie intake via their smartphone more than other generations: nearly a quarter (23%) do this, compared to an average of 19% across all age groups (source: Foresight Factory, 2022). Almond Mom experiences are not limited to children of Boomer parents, though. Gen Z also use the term to refer to Gen X parents who put the emphasis on weight and classify certain foods as good and others as bad.
One Gen X parent who has received particular scrutiny is Gwyneth Paltrow. While she has long been known for leading a health and wellness-focused life, she’s now earned the Almond Mom label too thanks to an interview she did for The Art of Being Well podcast. In the episode, Paltrow shared her wellness routine, which includes intermittent fasting, eating a lot of bone broth and vegetables, and daily use of an infrared sauna. The clip received 2.9 million views in four days, and many commenters called her out for glamourising disordered eating and failing to recognise her influence and privilege.
Affluence and privilege are often the butt of the joke among TikTokkers who take to the platform to lambast society’s obsession with skinniness through humour and levity. Jimmy Kimmel also weighed in at the Oscars, where he poked fun at all of the celebrities losing weight by taking Ozempic, a diabetes drug which is now facing a shortage for patients who actually need it. And weight isn’t the only element of mom culture being called into question; following the success of the film Everything Everywhere All at Once, multiple social media posts and thought pieces have been shared about the other emotional impacts that mothers have, intentionally or not, passed onto daughters.
– The criticism of Almond Moms has resonated because it turns an often upsetting personal experience into a shared bonding moment. Popular Almond Mom videos get laughs because they’re relatable, but also because they push the commentary to the extreme, offering a sense of catharsis. Internet humour is a difficult beast to tame, let alone understand, but when brands are able to tap into the meme du jour, it’s a win. Explore our trend Meme Messaging for more on how to join in on the digital laugh of the day without compromising your brand values.
– Toxic diet culture is being dismantled by consumers’ desire for body positivity, holistic health habits and rooting out systemic stigmas about wellness. There’s room for brands here to support consumers’ health and wellbeing journeys without focusing on negative behaviours or idealised aesthetics of the past. Instead, encourage them to find a healthy balance of indulgence and self-discipline, as we explore in Moderation Mantra. You can also facilitate togetherness and peer-to-peer support, helping consumers to find likeminded Wellness Communities.