By Ben Popken
September 23, 2013
Paper towels embossed to look like cloth. Tampon packages with a glossy metallic sheen. Designer ice cubes for $75 a bag. Marketers are going glam with everyday products, taking them upscale as they give up on selling to the middle class.
Companies have reacted for years to the shrinking middle class by developing both top shelf and bargain versions of their product lines. Toyota has been successful with the Lexus. Frito-Lay has introduced Olive Coast, kettle-cooked chips with a Mediterranean flavor, as well as “Taqueros,” a discount tortilla chip. Apple’s new iPhone comes in both a $199 version and a $99 one with cheaper components.
For the wealthy, a 20 percent markup is a small price to pay for “luxury.” For some in the middle class, it’s a way to feel affluent, at a cost. For the poor? There’s the bargain brands. In an economic recovery that has magnified income inequality, consumers are either spending at the Family Dollar stores of the world, or at the Nordstroms.