Companies try to predict trends, and they can get it wrong. The simple reason is that companies often display tunnel vision. They see the world through the lens of their own products.
Many investors rely on companies as their primary source of information. They rely on the companies to undertake their own surveys and predict their products’ future. With ethnographic research, where researchers observe a study’s participants in a real-life environment, it’s possible to predict consumer trends, and then to find the right investment.
Let’s take the example of an ethnographic study of 20 year-old Sneha living in a slum in Mumbai. Sneha works in accounting and tries to save half of her income so she can study for an MBA. She can tell you about her consumption today, but she can’t tell you about tomorrow. She insists that her diet wouldn’t’ change if she had money. But we know diets change with higher incomes.
Find the mirrors of their attitudes
Here the simple fridge is a powerful mirror of consumers’ diets through their income.
A first fridge is an efficiency device to store vegetables and left-over food. This is a hugely life-changing event. For instance, women tell us that a fridge allows them an extra 3 hours more a day, by saving them multiple visits to the market to produce meals “just in time.”
When families become middle class and money is less scarce, they start indulging themselves with ice cream, chocolate, cold beer and soft drinks. Then when they become affluent, they worry about health, so the fridge contains items such as low-fat milk, diet everything, probiotics and fresh juices.
To figure out what they’ll eat in the future, don’t ask consumers but look in the fridge of the socioeconomic class ahead of them. Looking inside peoples’ fridges we learn that affluent people consume almost 20 times more dairy products than the poor, pointing us to potential opportunities for investment.
Getting the trend right comes down to the researcher’s ability to figure out the right mirrors of attitudes.
Culture is simply a collection of all the core values we all hold as individuals.
Such consumer trends, like healthier living, exist in a cultural framework that changes over time. Culture is simply a collection of all the core values we all hold as individuals. We are all products of our culture, and an understanding of this framework is needed when trying to predict cultural trends.
“You need to travel outside to journey within.”
Finally, we can observe changes in travel. In Emerging Markets, in more conservative times, people travelled back to their villages to be with their families. There was virtually no travel outside of the country. As Indian and Chinese cultures started to focus on competition, people tried to outdo each other by travelling abroad to 6 cities in 7 days, posting on Facebook and making sure everybody knows where they’ve been, driving demand for package travel programs. But this demand will shift to more individualistic travel. Travellers then tend to try to learn from their experiences, making themselves better people. As a respondent once told us “You need to travel outside to journey within.”
By meeting these consumers through ethnographic studies in their homes, in villages and towns across different countries, we can try to understand their hopes, aspirations and anxieties. These dreams of a better tomorrow, for themselves and their families, form the basis of our portfolio.
The views expressed herein do not constitute research, investment advice or trade recommendations and do not necessarily represent the views of Trinetra Investment Management LLP and are subject to revision over time. Trinetra is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority in the United Kingdom.