Around the world, people have been shaken into uncertainty by the economic crisis. But the recent U.S. presidential election has given rise to feelings of hope and optimism. Looking ahead to 2009, Mintel sees five major ways that consumers will adapt and make the best of next year.

As a backlash against the fast pace of the modern world, people will try to take greater control of their lives and find pleasure in the simple things. Faced with financial insecurity, shoppers will seek out businesses and products they feel they can trust. And although they will cut back on spending, people will continue to treat themselves to little luxuries and fun activities.

“People around the world are feeling insecure and are already looking to reestablish a sense of stability in their lives,” says Joan Holleran, director of research at Mintel. “In the coming year, it will be more important than ever for businesses to respond quickly and creatively to changing consumer needs and desires, as we all become more selective in how we spend our money.”

1. You are in CONTROL

Over the years, people have become more confident and demanding about how they live their lives and spend their money. Even as a recession hits, they’ll want to stay in control of their choices wherever they can. Consumers will seek out products and services that give them exactly what they want, when they want it, especially as their budgets tighten. And the Internet will be key. It shows people every option available and gives them the power to demand more, while also allowing them to influence others through user reviews and feedback.

What it means for businesses: Manufacturers will respond with products that suit people’s specific needs and lifestyles. “Those companies that give consumers precisely what they want or give them the freedom to customize their purchases will do well. Companies that fail to do this will see consumers walk away,” says Joan Holleran. In addition, Baby Boomers will be of particular interest to businesses. Companies will move beyond traditional “old age” products and services to ones that embrace the active, healthy lifestyles of many older consumers.

2. Simplify and purify

Faced with fast-paced modern life, many people will convenience and simplicity. As people take control of their everyday lives, they will also demand that companies communicate with them honestly and openly. From understandable ingredients to clear company practices, consumers will want complete transparency when it comes to the products they buy. Old-fashioned skills such as cooking at home, sewing and gardening will become increasingly popular. As an added benefit, these home-based activities will also help people stretch their budgets further.

What it means for businesses: As consumers look for more authentic, easy-to-understand products, companies will market their brands in a simpler, more direct way. Fresh, clean and pure will become essential values, as manufacturers focus on clear ingredient labels and product positioning. “Simplicity and convenience are the ultimate goals. Brands that can communicate what they really stand for and show how they can make life easier will earn consumers’ trust and loyalty,” says Joan Holleran. Additionally, with people “cocooning” in their homes to save money, companies will create better products for dining, relaxing and entertaining at home.

3. Rebuilding trust

Today’s consumers have high standards and will demand value for money, as well as consistently high levels of quality, safety and service. Crumbling economic markets, food scares and toy safety problems have fueled an era of doubt and insecurity. And so in the coming year, people will seek out trusting, open relationships wherever they can. People will want to know all about the products they buy, from where they were sourced to how they were manufactured. Because of this, people will cling to the long-standing, nostalgic brands they know and love, looking for products with a real sense of familiarity.

What it means for businesses: For many companies, especially those in the finance sector, the road to rebuilding trust with consumers will be long and difficult. But it will be a priority. Manufacturers will need to back up their words with actions and conduct business in a more open, honest way. Reassuring consumers that they are acting in the customers’ best interest will become a primary concern for businesses. Also, as companies see shoppers sticking to already-familiar products, long-standing brands will move into new markets to exploit their position as trustworthy companies.

4. Trading down (but a little trading up too)

As purse strings tighten, consumers will look for every possible way to make their pennies stretch further. For example, people will trade down to cheaper store brands, eat out less, or simply choose not to update their wardrobes. But everyone will still crave a little treat now and again. The result? Shoppers will mostly trade down to budget-friendly solutions to save money. But occasionally, they will also need to indulge in small, affordable luxuries, like premium chocolate, designer sunglasses or a favorite moisturizer.

What it means for businesses: As consumers split between the low and high end of the market, manufacturers will invariably follow suit. Many companies will start to focus on value brands, but there will still be room for products that bring a little luxury to the everyday. “The middle market will increasingly be squeezed and is going to have to prove its worth when faced with competition from newly improved basic lines,” states Joan Holleran. Beyond this, many companies will position their products as a more affordable alternative to going out. For example, expect premium ready meals that give a restaurant experience at home or beauty products that bring a spa-like feel to the bathroom.

5. Playfulness, lightening the mood

In tougher times, people not only crave life’s little luxuries, they also need to enjoy themselves … we can’t be serious all the time. Small playful distractions such as neon make-up, fun-to-eat food or interactive stores like Apple will become increasingly popular as people look to let their hair down and have some fun.

What it means for businesses: Companies will focus on products and experiences that are light-hearted, and those that offer real entertainment will have a significant competitive advantage. Beyond this, manufacturers will launch products specifically designed to enhance people’s moods in unique ways. From food and beauty to household cleaners, Mintel expects to see a widening range of products that soothe, energize, or simply lift the spirits.