By Carissa Lee
It’s no secret that the new generation has commitment issues. Whether those issues concerns relationships, careers or even everyday purchases, the average young adult finds themself wrought with a familiar sense of indecisiveness and anxiety, culminating in an inability to go for that proposal, take that job offer or buy that car.
This phenomenon most (in)famously manifests itself in our social interactions. Popular dating app Tinder is perhaps the best example: no one actually uses Tinder for dating. Instead, it’s all about finding the next “hookup”—similarly to a “one night stand,” there’s no long-term relationship or marriage on the table.
This no-strings-attached mentality associated with millennials may also play a role in explaining something I like to call “single-serve culture.” Products like Keurig’s K-Cups and 100-calorie snack packs from brands of all kinds have become the norm in American households despite their obvious wastefulness (extra plastic, anyone?). While individual packaging isn’t a new or foreign concept, the reasons behind its continued prevalence in the modern era seem fundamentally intertwined with this fear of commitment. In other words, even though caring for the environment is a larger priority now more than ever, there is still something drawing us back to single-serve consumerism.
According to a 2015 article from the Harvard Business Review, “the single-serve experience is a powerful intersection of great business (higher margins, incremental sales) and increased consumer benefits (more choice, more customization).” The article discusses the potential merits of new technologies such as single-serve wine, which removes the “commitment” of having to down a full bottle, as evidence for this emphasis on customization.
In tailoring to the individual, single-serve products negate or reduce consideration of the feelings and stakes of any second or third parties, effectively decreasing decision-making pressure. This makes it easier for one to commit—without the need to finish a whole bottle of wine, one can more confidently pour just a glass at a time, or perhaps even sample from a greater variety. This also removes the stress of selecting a bottle everyone will enjoy, as guests can pick and choose their favorites.
As such, the popularity of single-serve solutions is undeniable, especially numbers-wise. Single-serve coffee accounted for about 30% of the total amount of coffee sold in grocery stores in 2015, despite it being a relatively new technology at the time. Furthermore, it was estimated that single-serve opportunities in the food and beverage industry were worth over $100 billion just a few years into sales.
So where do we go from here? It’s clear that America loves single-serve everything, and the freedom allotted by single-serve culture has shaped the way we interact with the world, from our daily cup of coffee to the modern dating experience. On the flip side, as the newest generations continue to push for more environmentally friendly policies, it seems we will have to make a choice as to which must go: our beloved K-Cups, or our polar ice caps (I-Caps?).
Contact Carissa Lee at carislee ‘at’ stanford.edu.