Have you noticed the size of kitchens these days? In the past, kitchens were bog standard affairs. Today, they are huge, cavernous spaces where you could land a Blackhawk helicopter. Walk into any estate in urban or rural Ireland and you will see builders’ vans, cement mixing machines and Polish lads in overalls fitting double glazing to outsized windows in these monster-kitchens. Irish families are getting smaller, but our kitchens are getting bigger. When we were kids, “an island” was a piece of land projected up from the sea, like the “Isle of Man”. Today “an island” is the essential centrepiece of the latest status symbol – your kitchen.
We are witnessing the greatest makeover Ireland has ever seen, with houses on steroids as giant new bits – typically kitchens and slate bathrooms – are grafted onto even the most modest dwellings.
Ireland is getting older, settling down and becoming house-proud. The impact of this demographic shift is now evident in the way we socialise. For example, although our drinking is still heroic by international standards, it is changing and declining. So for example, total booze consumption fell from 2002 to 2005, by 5pc. But the big change is in how we are drinking. The amount of booze drunk in bars has fallen by 14pc, while the amount bought in off-licences has increased by 25pc. (Source www.mintel.ie)
Some time around 2002, we decided that we preferred to stay in rather than go down the pub. And now, according to the tracking agency TGI, 56pc prefer a night at home with friends, as opposed to 46pc who head out for the few scoops. Yet we still spend an extraordinary â‚¬4.9bn in the pub every year. For a nation which claims to value education, it is interesting that we spend nearly four times more in the pub than we spend on the entire state budget for primary education. (No wonder standards are slipping.)
So if we are spending less cash in bars, what are we doing with the rest of it? Well, the average growth in restaurants has been 11pc per annum since 2002. In 2000, we had 3,060 restaurants here, by 2005 there were 4,380 and rising. This is part of the new food obsession that is sweeping the land. When we are not watching TV programmes about food, we’re talking about it, reviewing it, cooking, flambÃ©ing, roasting, grilling, frying, broiling, boiling, braising and savouring it. We have become a foodie nation and with this affectation go restaurants (good and bad), celebrity chefs and an explosion in the interest in food.
Last year, for the first time in human history, the number of overweight people in the world out-weighed the number of under-nourished people. In Ireland, the State spent a vast amount (over â‚¬400m or 10pc of the health sector’s budget) on treating diabetes – a good indicator of national gluttony. Ireland is being swept along in a global trend. This concern with food is also changing our behaviour. For example, 50pc of us are now happy to pay more to eat food that “doesn’t contain artificial additives”; while 56pc of us say that we are trying to avoid food with high salt content. All these concerns, and the fact that the fastest growing venue for socialising is now coffee shops means that Ireland is getting older, wiser, less hedonistic and possibly, a little bit more sober. Obviously we are way off the scale when our drinking is compared to the European average, but this is cultural and is something we share with the UK.
If Irish society is getting older and more comfortable, what will be its preoccupations? Well, in 10 years’ time the main bulge of the population – the children born in the 1970s – (who I call ‘the Pope’s children’) will be between 35 and 45. Because women are having kids later, we will see a boom in creches and a fall off in the demand for nightclubs and late bars. Also, as the generation gap is blurring between i-Pod listening and downloading parents and their teenagers, we will probably see youth culture react against this in some sort of new punk movement, much as we are seeing in American hip-hop at the moment.
But the main commercial action will be the ‘kidulthood’ market. These will be the 40-somethings who refuse to grow up. They will spend a disproportionate amount of their income on pampering, wellness and spiritual improvement. We should expect to see even more spa resorts opening all over the country, with the boom in yoga, Pilates and other holistic carry-on to expand apace. Marketers and brand managers will have to get inside the heads of these people, realising that whereas in the past, the focus of most ad campaigns has always been on the youth, in the future, the middle-aged will drive the consumer market.
Interiors and lifestyle products – which are already booming will continue to do so as these consumers try to distinguish themselves from their peers. If the country keeps growing as it is, there will be a significant number of exceptionally wealthy middle-aged people looking to buy that most elusive of commodities: lifestyle.
Everyone will strive to be different. Take for example, the word “luxury”. Every single apartment block in Ireland is described as luxury, so too are developments in Bulgaria, Cape Verde and London’s Shoreditch.
In short, the word in people’s minds has become devalued. So too have big exclusive brands. The more rappers expropriate high-end brands like Cristal, the more these luxury brands will have to reinvent themselves. Note what happened to Burberry when so-called ‘chavs’ in England made it their brand of choices. The premium in the brand collapsed and no amount of Kate Moss poses could sort it out.
So the Ireland of the future, whether we like it or not, is probably going to be full of 40-somethings with designer gear and designer drugs desperate to prove to all and sundry that a) they are still hip, and b) they are still young. Their children, when they arrive after IVF, will be fashion victims, kitted out in the hippest clobber and strapped into that most gear ergonomic of statements – the bicycle seat.
The baby bicycle says something about the type of person you are. People with children’s bicycle seats have reached a higher level on the right-on scale than the rest of us.
Expect the country to be reasonably content and the main retail battleground will be not for the scalps of our teenagers, but for the pockets of the greying market.