By Tony Samson

QUANTITIES of most consumer items now come in single-serve sachets. This recognizes the consumption patterns for the solo customer living alone, sometimes not even with an occasional drop-in maid service.

In shopping membership clubs, the consumer is enticed with economy sizes (you need two carts) where hefty discounts on retail prices are offered in exchange for volume buys. Packaging becomes bigger, as toothpaste in the family size category starts to need its own sink, which is expected to groan with the weight. The sachet revolution stands the wholesale rationale of cost savings on its head. The consumer is now offered tiny packages (and smaller outlays of cash) in exchange for higher unit costs.

Buying for limited use is nothing new. Jeepney drivers who are not to be bothered with buying a whole pack of cigarettes resort to getting one or two sticks at a time with the accompanying light-up service from the vendor. They also buy fuel this way — seldom a full tank but enough to get them through the shift. Motorcycles routinely fill up with a few liters due to the volume of the tank. You still need to line up behind them with your car.

The sachet culture has reduced products to a single consumption event. This type of micro-retailing is seen as a convenience to the consumer who plans purchases daily due to the uncertainty of the amount and timing of disposable income.

So widespread is the single-use purchase that it already covers a variety of products and services, including shampoo, sugar, coffee creamer, floor wax, paper soap, coffee, toothpaste, phone load, ice cream, butter, jam, food sauce, instant noodle snack, and mobile phone use.

The sachet culture is driven not just by pricing aimed at disposable daily income; it also reflects the solo lifestyle where single servings are all that are required for consumption. Small packaging is sure to extend to other areas.

Success fees will replace retainerships in outsourced services. Why pay a fixed monthly fee when the service is not yet needed. This now drives legal and PR services which are becoming single servings for crisis events, like demolition jobs and the cover-up of corporate misdeamenors.

Sports clubs for badminton and swimming charge on usage basis rather than monthly dues and have found a niche market. Already, weekdays are reserved in resort clubs for the non-member market with members turning a blind eye on the practice as a way of putting the lid on rising monthly dues.

Business class lounges used to require the entrant to buy a business class ticket or be a frequent flyer. Now open lounges offer the same service on single servings. The entrance fee for the economy passenger covers free peanuts, diet drinks, and even a shower with relatively clean paper towels. The ambient noise of crowds is part of the atmosphere.

While salaries are still paid monthly, variable pay tied up with success events is a growing practice. More jobs will be done on as-needed basis rather than by regular employment. This paves the way for outsourcing and part-time freelance employment which may be advantageous even for job-seekers since rates are better, and more family time is possible. One can also work from home, and save on commuting cost.

The “gig economy” already accepts the project-based nature of employment. The gig after all is a term used for rock bands that play for pay at specific events, like weddings and product launches. Their engagement occasionally has a semblance of regularity when playing every Tuesday for certain retro clubs.

Maybe an actual rise in purchasing power may bring back wholesale buying and economy sizes. In an uncertain economy, cash will be held on to until the time to part with it in exchange for an immediate requirement is unavoidable, as when hunger pangs intrude. Timing, not price, determines how cash is spent.

Smaller habitation space also discourages hoarding. More and more are living in less and less space. With ready-to-consume packaging, no storage is needed. Don’t even bother with expiry dates.

The sachet consumer understands that life’s pleasures can come in small packages. You don’t have to buy a whole cow…if you are lactose-intolerant. The more popular version of that cliché refers to a different kind of consumption. And that one as well creates no storage problems.


Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda