When Winnipeg entrepreneur Ida Albo wants to get a sense of what consumers might be looking for, she'll often look in the mirror.
"I look at myself as a consumer and then extrapolate a little bit," the co-owner of Winnipeg's Fort Garry Hotel said Tuesday as she explained where she and husband Rick Bel got the idea a few years ago to open a yoga studio in downtown Winnipeg.
Despite being an avid jogger, Albo said she was concerned that as she aged, she'd begin losing some of her strength and flexibility. She felt taking yoga classes would be one of the best ways to prevent that from happening.
A little research confirmed she wasn't alone in thinking that way. Demand for yoga classes was growing at a double-digit pace in Canada, so Albo and Bel decided to convert the main floor and lower level of the former Carleton Club on Fort Street into Canada's largest yoga centre.
It proved to be a wise decision. Albo said their Yoga Public studio has also seen demand for its classes grow at a double-digit pace in each of its first two years in operation, "and my guess is that's going to continue."
A new report from the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) helps to reinforce that belief.
The report, released Wednesday as part of the BDC's Small Business Week celebrations in Canada, says five consumer trends have emerged as a result of advances in technology, changing demographics and the 2007-08 recession. And those trends will affect Canadians' buying habits in the coming years, creating new growth opportunities for small- and medium-sized businesses .
One of the trends is what the report refers to as "the new health mania." It said health concerns and health awareness are growing among Canadian consumers and will continue to accelerate as the population ages.
"Consumers now look for products and services to help them maintain and improve their health," it says, "changing the type of products they purchase for their family, the sports they play and how they spend their leisure time."
Pierre Cléroux, the BDC's chief economist, said yoga classes are a good example of the kind of products and services health-conscious Canadians are looking for these days. And not just older Canadians.
"We're also finding the younger generation is also more health conscious," he said. "The way they eat is changing. They eat more fresh vegetables and fruits. And the demand for organic and national foods is rising."
An even more powerful consumer trend is "the buy-local movement," the report says, with close to two-thirds of Canadians saying they've made an effort to buy local or Canadian-made products in the past year.
Peak of the Market, the not-for-profit organization that markets 120 different types of Manitoba-grown vegetables on behalf of local growers, said it's also finding a strong buy-local sentiment here, even though the BDC report said it found consumers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan are the least likely in Canada to buy local or Canadian-made goods.
"The feedback we consistently get is that people want to know what's locally grown," Peak of the Market president and CEO Larry McIntosh said in an interview. "I think people really want to support the local economy... and they want to support local farmers. All the indicators we're hearing is that it's Manitoba-grown first, Canadian second and the U.S. third, if they have a choice."
In a bid to take full advantage of that buy-local mentality, the Manitoba Food Processors Association and the provincial government launched a Buy Manitoba awareness program last year that included putting Manitoba-made logos on locally grown or locally processed products and on the shelves of local Canada Safeway stores.
MFPA executive director Dave Shambrock said in the first year of the program, sales in Safeway stores by the 30 highest-volume Manitoba suppliers increased an average of nearly three per cent.
"In the grocery world, that's huge," he said. "It's like a $1.7-million increase in sales for these products."
The BDC report says while Canadian businesses have begun catering to the increased demand for healthy, well-priced, local products, they've been slow in reacting to the impact the Internet is having on buying behaviour.
It said Canadian online presence remains largely undeveloped, and e-commerce here is lagging beyond that of most other countries. Cléroux said that needs to change.
"Regardless of whether they buy a product over the Internet or in a store, more consumers are influenced by what they see on online channels," he said. "Entrepreneurs must realize that a simple website is no longer sufficient for businesses. Instead, they need to adopt a multi-channel approach."
Other key findings of the BDC study:
- Consumers are increasingly looking for custom-made solutions that fit their specific needs, and they are becoming more engaged in product creation.
- Certain consumer habits that surfaced during the 2007-08 recession are becoming the new standard. More consumers expect quality products at reasonable prices and will aggressively search for bargains.