November 22, 2006

The Pope's children of today are the 'kidults' of tomorrow

Posted in Celtic Tiger · 9 comments ·
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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 €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, flambéing, 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 €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.


  1. reply

    That €4.9bn was just on beer…

  2. a popes child

    dynamite stuff but two points..

    …the drop off in the pub trade coincided with the smoking ban.
    …and the collapse (yes collapse) in off-license booze prices. Students find it hard now to justify drinking in pubs when the price of a pint is 4.80 comapred with 6 rolling rock for a fiver. cant say i blame them.

    The culture now for a 16-20yo is to…

    a) get tanked up at home/field and head to a nightclub
    b) buy ecstacy at 5 quid a pop.

    The availability of cocaine and its acceptence by the 25-35yo makes this their drug of choice and substitutes for the 10-12 pints they might otherwise consume.

  3. … yet these massive kitchens often function as ‘microwaveries’ for ready meals and other convenience foods: despite a slow-down in the ready-meal market’s growth, it is still valued at €1,936 million (all-Ireland figures) according to a report published in May by the Mintel International Group. Something to chew on?

  4. Kevin

    The publicans are the only businesses which put up prices when their business is dropping. Don’t think it is all down to the smoking ban either, going out on the town for beers is just getting too damn expensive.

  5. Garry

    More popes children eh….

    Jeasus, JP must have been a busy man…. he only spent 3 days here and the population exploded

  6. re: Pubs
    The decline in pub sales is also helped by the pubs selling their land for development in heavily residential areas. So, there are also less pubs and more Spars selling take-out liquor. check out Clontarf Rd in Dublin.. I’ve a bet with my missus about when the Yacht are going to sell up in order to be developed into a three story appartment block with ground floor Spar.

    re: greying population
    I suspect the pope’s children will come flocking back to God.. just wait for it – the return to values as the rebels gray off

  7. in 10 years (or so) we’ll have reached peak oil.
    we’ll have to shift the kids around on the back of bicycles !

  8. Mick

    I’ll have to agree with Paddy. Many experts (economists, petro-geologists) have predicted a peak in oil production in the near future and have discussed the possible fallout(s). No short term scenario makes for good news, forecasts such as global economic collapse, vast reductions in transport, a virtual end to commercial aviation, resource wars, famine, …have been discussed plausibly. By all accounts the main struggle will be to heat and feed ourselves, let alone be pre-occupied with ‘kidulthood’. I am, however, curious about why David McWilliams would write this article. I attended an oil depletion conference in the Mansion House earlier this year which was hosted by Mr. McWilliams. Unsettling facts were presented and realistic scenarios drawn by some of the worlds leading experts in this field (ptp). Mr. McWilliams accepted what these people were saying to be the truth and while admitting that it was a relatively new topic to him it was deserving of merit. Why then, given acceptance of this point of view would he write an article that gives predictions based on a business-as-usual scenario?If the oil depletion experts are correct (and they present a strong case through their arguments, knowledge, industry experience, and lack of political agenda) then business-as-usual isn’t going to happen.
    Given Irelands size and total dependence on imported oil, it is incapable of setting world agenda in the complex oil markets. We can only influence our demand for the stuff and a business-as-usual outlook leads to ever increasing demand. This is the wrong way to go. To conclude a long-winded point I would ask Mr. McWilliams to qualify his predictions in future, there is a massive elephant in the room, at least pay it the courtesy of saying hello.

  9. [...] question of how we got where we are is hardly addressed at all.  Five years ago, David McWilliams warned of the dangers of the 40-somethings in Ireland becoming a nation of ‘kidults’, [...]

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