There was a time not too long ago when there was a segment of consumers unfortunately labeled “lonely hearts”, portraying the single diner as a sort of sad, unfulfilled member of society. Happily, the taboo is lifting and we now refer to them as solo diners (of whom I am often one) and they are not sad at all. In fact, many people’s eating habits have totally transitioned from 3 square meals a day to a much more fragmented way of eating that often includes eating alone. These diners represent a huge opportunity for brands who truly understand them.

People are eating alone in restaurants, and at home, even if they don’t live by themselves. That is compelling and got me thinking, why would you eat alone if you lived in a house full of people? And when I do eat alone what kind of things am I buying versus when I am eating with a group of people?

Sometimes people eat alone for “me time”. I often do this at work. I sit at my desk eating while catching up on emails. Others are eating alone as a necessity, 44 percent of people that eat alone say it is because of household challenges, like family members with very different schedules.

And all of this change has led us to expect to eat what we want, when we’re alone, and sometimes when we’re not.

Fast casual restaurants have been the quickest to take advantage of these consumer desires. Brands like sweetgreen, Chopt, and Cava allow a customer to totally customize their individual meal. At each of these restaurants, you have the option to start from scratch and build exactly what you want and get it all in an individualized portion. Consumers can have a fun healthy meal, made for one, exactly how they want it.

And as they tend to, the restaurant trends are moving into homes, providing consumers the opportunity to please individuals instead of groups. One brand that is already doing this well is Trader Joe’s. Their salad kits are made for one person and allow each diner to build their own salad with just the right amount of food for one person. That means not only do I get exactly what I want when I’m alone but when I’m with my daughter, I can get a spinach salad and she can get a Thai Salad and we can sit next to each other and eat them.

This super individual behavior that is gaining demand faster than brands can create supply is an incredible opportunity for innovation, new formats of existing products, and new ways of communicating and engaging. The former “lonely hearts” are waiting. If you need some help reaching them, let’s talk.

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