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Trends Tracker—Covering the Hottest Topics of July 2014 Introduction

Click here to download the report (.pdf)

 

Introduction

Welcome to Blueshift Research’s and SurveyMonkey’s new monthly business research tracker entitled Trends Tracker. This is a monthly survey tracking U.S. consumers’ opinions and actions on 20 of what we think are the most pressing questions affecting U.S. citizens and their choices that could affect business and investment theses. These current trends will be monitored on a monthly basis to see how the opinions evolve over time and will be updated with new issues that emerge from current work and observations at Blueshift.

Trends Tracker is a survey of 1,087 respondents that captures a general sample of the U.S. public. SurveyMonkey utilizes U.S. Census data to balance the respondents by gender and age, so that the sample aligns with the general population. Here are our initial findings:

 

Summary of Findings

  • The most pressing consumer trend affecting businesses that we are currently observing is the desire for GMO foods to be labeled and the refusal to purchase GMO products. This trend will propel the passing of GMO labeling laws and result in dire consequences for companies that produce GMO seeds and crops. It will also boost demand for companies that have moved to phase out GMO products.
    • Approximately half of respondents oppose GMO foods, and 82% want GMO foods labeled.
  • Another dynamic trend that is gaining the attention of the U.S. public and investors is the transition to solar power. Over time, this transition will erode energy companies’ grasp on electric consumption, while supporting the growth of budding solar companies.
    • Installations have hit new highs in recent months, as a growing number of low income households adopt solar power, continuing to propel this market to new heights. Just last month residential installations outpaced commercial installations, again emphasizing the importance of consumer adoption in the market. As more residents adopt solar power, costs will drop, making solar a more affordable option for the largest group of residential installations, households making under $25,000 a year.
  • The legalization of marijuana, our most controversial Trends Tracker topic, is gaining support from the general public. Swelling support will allow legalization bills to pass as they emerge across the country, and gives birth to a new market of developing companies.
    • 42% of respondents are in favor of legalization, with 48.1% for respondents under 29 years of age in favor.
  • Cable services are losing the long battle against the growing adoption of OTT services, including Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu Plus. More consumers are abandoning cable services, or never subscribed to them in the first place.
    • Demand for cable is shrinking as one third of respondents are abandoning the services, and 1% cut the cord in the past month. Future demand for cable looks bleak as 18-29 year olds were more likely to never have cable.
  • Increased focus on healthy living habits is changing consumer behavior and causing a shift in restaurant business models, particularly fast food companies. Healthier living and eating is creating a demand for restaurants to focus on healthy dishes and fresh ingredients. Fast food companies are the most threatened by this growing emphasis on healthy living and will see declining demand unless healthier choices are adopted.
    • Chipotle is already seeing profits rise due to its healthy and organic menu options. 
  • Presidential candidates will no longer be able to count on the voting power of their respective political parties and the states that historically backed them. Voters’ preference to vote for a candidate rather than political party will shake things up in upcoming elections.
  • The continued adoption of Apple’s iPhones from younger and wealthier consumers will sustain Apple’s dominant position in the smartphone market. Samsung is picking up steam, with approximately half the market share of Apple.
    • Younger respondents are more likely to purchase an iPhone, as are those in higher income households. 
  • Patients are comfortable with the developing market for robot-assisted surgery. We believe ISRG, the maker of the da Vinci robot and leader in the development of robot-assisted surgery, will continue to see robot-assisted surgeries become more prevalent as more patients opt for robot-assisted surgeries.
  • A trend that we are tracking ahead of its general public release is Alibaba’s 11main.com, which is a potential threat to Amazon.com, though it is currently unknown in the U.S.
  • Alibaba cannot take market share from Amazon.com until it is open to the general public.
  • Realtors got a scare in May as the percentage of first-time home buyers dropped, but our survey indicates that this drop is only temporary and first-time home purchases will return to historical averages in the coming months. Companies like Zillow and Trulia are benefiting from first-time home buyers gathering a litany of information through their sites when researching their first home purchase.
    • The portion of first-time home buyers in the market during the month of May was 27%, down from historical averages of 40%. Our numbers show U.S. homebuyers only, and do not reflect the influx of foreign homebuyers that are becoming more prevalent in the U.S.
  • Digital and mobile wallet adoption is in its infancy, but has the potential to change traditional money exchanges. This shift in payments will only happen in time, as adoption remains slow due to fear of security and lack of merchants accepting new payment methods. Only 1 in 10 respondents in our survey currently use a digital or mobile wallet. Younger respondents are the early adopters for these new payment methods and show future potential for the market.
  • Widespread delays and slow-downs of Internet services are a big concern for consumers and companies that rely on the Internet for their business. Blueshift first observed slowing performance from networks with large user bases in its April 11th Tech Trends report, and is spreading to consumers.
  • Social media use by consumers and advertisers is at an all-time, led by Facebook’s expanding user base of older adults. We see Twitter and Instagram developing into good advertising platforms for key demographics such as millennials that frequent these platforms more so than their older counterparts.
  • Vehicle replacement cycles affect car production companies, auto parts stores, and consumer car buying services, like TrueCar. Currently, 1 in 10 respondents will replace their vehicle in the next three months for a vehicle with better gas mileage or a similar vehicle to their current model. We will see how replacement trends adapt over time and how they aid or hinder these companies.
  • Our last trend is focused on the rising belief in climate change. Changing perceptions of the state of the earth has wide-spread implications that will allow green technology and environmentally-friendly products to gain momentum in the coming years.

 

Topics

1) Consumers are opposed to GMO foods and want GMO products labeled

The most pressing consumer trend affecting businesses is the desire for GMO foods to be labeled and the refusal to purchase GMO products. We observed approximately half of respondents opposing GMO foods, and 82% wanting GMO foods labeled. Opposing GMOs is largely thought of as a liberal, younger demographic topic, but respondents ages 60 and older proved to be more opposed to GMO foods than their younger counterparts. It was assumed that organic foods’ higher prices were not purchased by households with lower incomes and were viewed as a hindrance to sales; however, households with incomes lower than $100,000 were more likely to buy non-GMO products than households making more than $100,000. Companies such

as Whole Foods, General Mills, Boulder Brands, Chipotle, Annie’s, and Hain Celestial will benefit from this developing trend, as each enacted or is in the process of enacting bans on GMOs within their respective company products. Monsanto, Syngenta, Du Pont, and other biotechnology companies that produce GMO seeds will be adversely affected as demand rises for organic foods.

Are you opposed to buying GMO (genetically modified) foods?

  • Approximately half of our respondents are opposed to GMO foods, with 31.5% refusing to buy GMO products.
  • 25% of respondents are indifferent when buying GMO foods.
  • Older respondents are more likely to be opposed to GMOs and refuse to buy GMO products.
  • Households that make less than $100,000 a year are more likely to be opposed to and refuse to buy GMO products.

Should GMO foods be labeled?

  • The vast majority of respondents want GMO products labeled, and will support future state efforts to label GMO products.
  • Current state efforts to label GMOs have been met with mixed results. California and Washington voters failed to approve GMO labeling, while Connecticut and Maine both passed laws that would require GMO labeling if nearby states acted as well. In November, Oregon will be the next state to vote on labeling GMOs, and will be followed by more than two-dozen other states considering labeling.
  • Some companies did not wait for state legislation to catch up with growing consumer demand and took matters into their own hands. Whole Foods is requiring labeling of GMOs in the U.S. and Canada by 2018, General Mills stopped using GMO cornstarch and sugar cane for its Cheerios in January and included
  • a non-GMO label, and Ben & Jerry’s is in the process of switching to non-GMO products in all of its ice cream flavors.
  • Four additional publicly traded companies that are taking a stand against GMO products include:
    • Boulder Brands, which is removing GMO products from its Smart Balance butter spreads. o Chipotle, which plans to be just about or completely GMO-free by the end of 2014.
    • Annie’s using 100% GMO-free products.
    • Hain Celestial producing 99% of its products GMO-free. 

 

2) Residential solar adoption will continue to rise, led by low income households

Solar power is an active trend developing in the U.S. and around the world. Rising demand from approximately one third of our respondents express the massive threat in the upcoming years to power companies. Households with incomes less than $25,000 a year are leading the charge for cost effective residential installations. Consequently, the gap between residential installations and commercial installations will continue to widen in 2014 and beyond. SolarCity, NRG Energy, SunPower Corp., and other solar installation companies are seeing and will continue to benefit from rising demand for residential installations, as well as commercial endeavors.

How likely are you to adopt solar power in the next 6 months?

  • One-third of respondents are likely to have solar power installed in their homes in the next six months, or already have it.
  • Q1 of 2014 was the largest quarter of solar power installations, and was the first time that residential installations (232 MW) surpassed commercial installations (225 MW).
  • Lower income households with less than $25,000 annual income are the most likely to adopt solar power in the next six months compared to all other income levels. A national divide in upper and lower classes is expanding the population in this category, aiding the purchase of solar.
  • 41.2% of respondents between the ages of 45-60 were likely to have solar power installed in their home in the next six months, the highest percentage of all age groups. This group also already adopted the most solar power, a percentage point above the other age groups.

 

3) Marijuana will be voted legal if on a ballot

Legalizing marijuana is a hot button topic being discussed around the country that has a growing number of supporters. Our survey presents data that confirms this support from slightly less than half of respondents, a shade lower than a poll done by Huffington Post, a liberal news aggregator, and YouGov, an internet-based research firm. In conjunction with public belief, respondents under the age of 60 are more in favor of legalizing marijuana than those above 60. Additionally, lower income families were more in favor of legalization compared to those with higher household incomes. The introduction of an entire new market to the economy brings new companies, revenues, and taxes that can benefit investors looking to be on the cutting edge of an explosive market.

What should the current law be regarding marijuana?

  • The legalization of marijuana is supported by 42.5% of respondents.
  • A recent collaborative poll from Huffington Post and YouGov, shows that 51% of Americans are in favor of the legalization of marijuana, while 37% said it should not be legalized. 62% of Democrats, 51% of Independents, and 36% of Republicans, said marijuana should be legalized.
  • The percentage of respondents that support the legalization of marijuana is consistently around 45% across age groups 18-29, 30-44, and 45-60, with 18-29 being the most supportive, and those age 60 and above being the least supportive.
  • Households with lower incomes favor legalization of marijuana more than those with higher income levels.

 

4) Cable is losing out to OTTs as more respondents cut the cord or never had cable

OTT services continue to eat away at cable companies’ tight grasp on the American public. The potential market for cable providers will continue to shrink as one third of respondents lack cable services, and 1% cut the cord in the past month. Another factor that paints a bleak picture is the lack of adoption from 18-29 year olds who were more likely to never have cable. Cable and Satellite TV services must adapt to new viewing habits of consumers as they move away from expensive cable offerings to cheaper OTT services such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime.

Do you use cable in your household?

  • Consumers are starting to abandon cable services as 33% of respondents do not have cable, and 1.2% cut the cord within the last month.
  • According to GfK, a market research firm, 19% of Americans with a TV do not have cable. Additionally, the number of cord cutters has been rising for the past 4 years.
  • Younger generations entering the entertainment market for themselves, ages 18-29, were more likely to never have cable, twice the percentage points of other age groups. They are also less likely to have add on services like HBO, half of the other age groups.

 

5) Rising healthy living habits will increase demand for restaurants that focus on fresh and healthy menu options

One major consumer habit shifting restaurant and fast food products is the increased focus on healthy living habits. Our respondents are greatly improving their living habits, putting an increased emphasis on fresh, and healthy food choices. Fast food companies that do not offer healthier choices are susceptible to losing customers to those with fresh ingredients. Chipotle is one of the pioneers in shifting toward healthy meals, and is benefiting from the swelling demand for healthier fast food to the tune of 28% revenue growth during Q2.

Compared to 6 months ago, how have your living habits (diet, exercise, sleep, etc.) changed?

  • Consumers are starting to improve healthy living habits. More than three times the number of consumers are improving their living habits compared to those that are decreasing healthy living habits over the past six months.
  • According to a NRA survey, 71% of adults are trying to eat healthier at restaurants than they did two years ago. 

 

6) Presidential candidates’ platforms, not political party, will fuel voting in 2016

Presidential candidates will no longer be able to count on the voting power of their respective political parties and the states that historically backed them. Voters are educating themselves on trending topics like the ones in this survey and will support the candidate that exemplifies their ideals on various topics.

How will you vote in the 2016 presidential election?

  • A big shift in voting habits has emerged, citizens are moving away from the old form of voting by political party and choosing to focus on each individual candidate regardless of political party. 77.1% of respondents will vote for the next President based on the candidate instead of their political party (22.9%). 

 

7) iPhones continue to dominate the smartphone market, with Samsung in second

The ever growing and changing smartphone market has one consistent entity leading the market, Apple’s iPhones. The dominant player continues to be the leader in the smartphone market and is gaining market share in a comparison of our numbers and comScore numbers in January. Apple’s strength is appealing to younger generations that are more likely to purchase an iPhone, as well as higher income households that can pay for the higher-priced iPhones. Having the support of emerging buyers and high-income households indicates that Apple will remain the top smartphone in the market. We also see Samsung gaining market share, while targeting lower-income households compared to January comScore numbers.

Who made the smartphone you currently own?

  • Smartphone owners over the age of 18 still favor Apple’s iPhone compared to other smartphones, particularly younger generations and high income households. Samsung continues to be the second favorite in the market as it benefits from low-income household demand.
  • 43.5% of smartphone owners have an Apple phone (Q14 analyzed)
  • 28% of smartphone owners have a Samsung phone (Q14 analyzed)
  • In a January comScore report, Apple controlled 41.6% of the smartphone market, while Samsung controlled 26.7%. Both companies are adding customers, and growing market share in comparison to our survey findings.
  • 18-29 year olds are more likely to own an iPhone than other age groups.
  • As household income increases, so does the adoption of Apple’s iPhone. Adoption of Samsung smartphones is inversely related to household income increasing.

 

8) Intuitive Surgical and its da Vinci robot will benefit from patients being comfortable with robot-assisted surgeries

Patients are warming up to the idea of robot-assisted surgeries. We believe this trend will benefit ISRG, the maker of the da Vinci robot, as consumers readily accept robot-assisted surgeries. Growing acceptance will in turn reflect the growing desire of hospitals to purchase the da Vinci robot as more surgeries are done utilizing this new technology.

How comfortable would you feel about a doctor using a robot to assist in one of your surgeries?

  • Consumers are comfortable with robot-assisted surgeries, with 67.9% of respondents moderately, very, and extremely comfortable with robot-assisted surgeries.
  • Robotic-assisted surgeries with Intuitive Surgicals da Vinci Robot showed a 12% increase in operations for the full year in 2013 compared to 2012. 

 

9) Alibaba’s 11main.com remains unknown in the U.S.

A trend that we are closely monitoring as it enters the U.S. market is Alibaba’s 11main.com. The potential threat of 11main.com on industry giant Amazon.com is massive, but will not be recognized until 11main.com opens its doors to the general public. Until the company does so 11main.com will remain unknown in the U.S.

Have you heard of 11main.com?

  • 11main.com is not recognized or used by the general public in the U.S.
  • The lack of use and recognition of 11main.com will continue as long as it remains invitation-only. Currently, potential shop owners can request to get invited and shops can be put on a list to be allowed to use the site. 

 

10) First-time homebuyers will return to historical averages after dropping in May

After Realtors experienced a drop in first-time buyers in May, our survey shows they can relax as first-time buyers return to historical averages. The housing market will be better than our current numbers show, since it does not account for the influx of foreign home buyers that are becoming more prevalent in the U.S. Approximately 1 in 10 respondents are in the market for a house. Realtors, and companies like Zillow and Trulia will gain attention from consumers as they gather information on potential housing purchases.

Are you looking to buy a home in the next 6 months?

  • Our survey indicated that 1 in 10 respondents will be in the market to buy a house in the next six months, though it does not include foreign home buyers, who have been increasing the number of homes they purchase in the U.S.
    • 39% of home buyers are first-time buyers.
  • Historical averages for first-time homebuyers are around 40% compared to the record low of first-time buyers in May (27%). 

11) Digital and mobile wallet adoption remains slow

The digital and mobile wallet market has been met with sluggish acceptance, but has astronomical potential to change traditional money exchanges and boost companies developing wallets and tools for the market. Use of digital and mobile wallets will remain slow as fear of security stifles adoption and a lack of merchants accepting new payment methods snuffs out using the new payment methods. Only 1 in 10 respondents own and use a digital or mobile wallet. The bright spot of consumers adopting new payment methods is the growing interest from consumers age 18-29. PayPal, Amazon.com, Google Wallet, Apple Passbook, and a plethora of companies with mobile and digital wallets will benefit as merchants begin accepting these payment methods.

Have you used a digital or mobile wallet in the last month?

  • Slow acceptance of mobile and digital wallets are reflected in our survey with only 11.2% of consumers owning and using the new payment options.
  • A lack of merchants capable of accepting mobile or digital wallets and fear of security are top reasons why consumers have not adopted the non-traditional form of payment.
  • Potential growth of the sector is stemming from the acceptance from our youngest age group, age 18 to 29, with 21.1% of respondents in that age group using a mobile or digital wallet within the past month, the most out of any age group.

 

12) Internet delays and slow-downs are beginning to be felt by the general public

A developing concern for the internet addicted general public and companies relying on Internet services for businesses are widespread Internet delays and slow-downs being experienced by one-third of our respondents. The general slowing in performance from networks with large user bases was first observed in Blueshift’s April 11 Tech Trends report, and are being recognized by the general public.

Are you having more problems with slow or delayed internet compared to six months ago?

  • One third of our respondents or 32.6% have experienced slowness or delays in Internet speeds compared to six months ago. 

 

13) Facebook remains top dog in social media, but is losing the younger users to Twitter and Instagram

The massive acceptance and use of social media outlets by consumers and advertising agencies makes this market an obvious focus for this trend piece, which Facebook continues to dominate as it sucks in older demographics to frequent its site. A bold move by Facebook to introduce social experiments to its platform is
not depreciating the frequency of users to the site. We are also seeing Twitter and Facebook’s other social media platform, Instagram, gaining users from younger demographics, 18 to 29 year olds, who are abandoning Facebook.

Which social media platform do you use the most?

  • Facebook (58.1%) is the most used social media site according to respondents 18 and older.
  • Facebook is used by 57% of all American adults, and became more frequently used as 64% of adult users visit the site on a daily basis, up from 51% of daily adult users in 2010. On the other hand, teen users are leaving Facebook. This shift in demographics is creating an unsteady environment of Facebook users.
  • Respondents age 18-29 were more likely to choose Instagram and Twitter as their most-used social media site compared to other age groups.

How has your usage of Facebook changed after hearing about its social experiment on its users?

  • Facebook’s social experiment is not pushing users away, with 76.7% of users saying their usage remains unchanged, and only 20.3% decreasing their use of the site. 

 

14) 1 in 10 respondents will replace their vehicle in the next three months

Replacement cycles for vehicles have implications that affect car production companies, auto parts stores, and consumer car buying services, such as TrueCar. The current trend of vehicle replacement cycles, that we will be monitoring closely as it develops, is that 1 in 10 respondents are likely to replace their vehicles in the next three months. Cars with better gas mileage and similar makes and models of current cars will be the main focus for replacements.

Are you going to replace your car in next three months?

  • 9.6% of respondents are looking to replace their vehicle within the next three months. 

What is the main change in the car you will buy? (select all that apply)

  • Improving gas mileage (40%) and a similar vehicle (35.2%) will be the top two changes car owners will make when replacing their current vehicle. 

 

15) U.S. citizens’ belief in climate change is rising compared to 2013

Our last trend that will be shaking up multiple markets is the rising belief in climate change. As consumers’ perception of the state of the earth change, there will be widespread implications for acceptance and use of green technology and environmentally friendly products.

Do you believe in climate change?

 

16) Instagram, Candy Crush, Tinder, Clash of Clans, and Snapchat will see a rise in adop- tion over the next month

Apps and mobile games are becoming increasingly popular with consumers, making this a key market that we will pay attention to as a landslide of new apps enter the market everyday.

What apps/mobile games are you using now that you were not using a month ago?

  • Respondents indicated that Instagram, Candy Crush, Tinder, Clash of Clans, and Snapchat are the top new apps they have started using in the past month.

 

17) Chubbies, Reddit, the farm-to-table movement, adventure-style games, using Tinder, healthy eating habits, opposing GMOs, food trucks, and lighter marijuana laws are new trends seen by consumers

Our belief is that consumers can give helpful insight into developing trends just like we have done with this survey tracker. This section will solidify the developing trends we laid out, as well as lending new ideas to update this survey moving forward.

What is the most interesting new trend you have seen in the last month?

  • Our respondents have seen a bunch of new developing trends over the past month. The most prevalent trends presented by our consumers include: Chubbies, using Reddit, farm to table companies, gamers favoring adventure style games over shooters, using Tinder to date, rising healthy eating habits like vegan and gluten-free options, opposing GMOs, food trucks, and making marijuana legal or a lighter punishment.

 


Analysis by Mason Rudy