Middle class women are driving a major shift in consumption trends and companies would do well to pay greater attention to their desires, marketing experts have warned.

The middle class consumer around the world is richer than ever before, Michael Silverstein, consultant at the Boston Consulting Group and author of Treasure Hunt, said.

This is leading to a new level of aspirations but also stresses and insecurity.

One on the one hand, “mankind has never had more discretionary money” but “you need to respond to dissatisfactions, unmet dreams and emotions”, he told delegates attending the 51st World Food Business summit in Shanghai.

“You need to understand the craver and the heavy user,” he added, using videos to show the habits and desires of women shoppers in China and the US. Both women see themselves as shaping the future for their children, balancing spending on grocery products with savings for a better education and lifestyle.

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Women control 85% of discretionary spending, according to Silverstein, and are set to become increasingly important consumers as they overtake male earning power by 2028.

“If you satisfy a female customer she will tell 10 friends. But if you don’t, she’ll tell 300,” he warned.

Marketers should also beware of ‘average’ products. “Consumers around the world are trading up and trading down. They avoid the boredom and low value that increasingly characterise the middle,” said Silverstein.

Levy said that consumers want stronger connections with brands, and are using new media to shape their demands. Marketers needed to respond by no longer treating consumers as ‘wallets’ but by allowing them to participate in product development.

“Consumers are no longer passive. They want to be part of the conversation.”

Half of all content on the Internet will soon be consumer generated, he predicted, unveiling a set of new tools that allows consumers to contribute to product design.

Other speakers also urged the food industry to invest more in new media. Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of communications group WPP, said consumers currently spend 20% of their time using new media and technological devices but that marketers are only investing 7-8% on advertising through these channels.