Move over millennials: The golden years can be a gold mine for food manufacturers

While attention has focused recently on younger shoppers, baby boomers and other older consumers can be a lucrative market through smaller portions, easy-open packaging and specific nutrients.


Sandy Skrovan, FoodDive

Aug. 9, 2017


Baby boomers and other older shoppers who grew up with cereal, soups and sodas are an increasingly lucrative audience for food and beverage companies even if the demographic is starving for attention.


Millennials demanding healthier and more natural products are drawing much of the focus from food manufacturers, but other consumers still have far more valuable disposable income and purchasing power.


At the grocery store — all those boxes, canned goods and meal ingredients, which still compose the majority of supermarket sales — are filled with brands that older shoppers remember fondly from their childhood. As a result, food makers must take time to adapt products, packaging and marketing approaches to meet the needs of mature adults, or risk ceding billions of dollar in revenue to their competitors.


“The older consumer segment is still the key sales driver of those types of items,” Lori Bitter, founder of consultancy group The Business of Aging, said in an email with Food Dive.


The boomer generation — whose oldest members began turning 65 in 2011 — is responsible for pushing up the median age of the U.S. consumer, from 35.3 years in 2000 to 37.9 in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Each day, 8,000 boomers turn 65 years old, and unlike previous generations, they’re postponing retirement, staying active, minding their health and wellness, and living longer.


Unfortunately, older adults are often ignored by food companies, who have turned much of their attention to figuring out what younger generations want. This could prove to be a costly mistake.


“Older adults have long been forgotten in terms of their purchasing power and the attention they’re given whether it’s their health or nutritional needs, or just their interests and values,” Alexandra Lewin-Zwerdling, a vice president of research and partnerships for the International Food Information Council, told Food Dive.


The health, science and nutrition group found a lot of older consumers change their food habits and preferences because of changing family dynamic structure.


“Oftentimes they’re cooking for one, so they need smaller portions. Their strength may be limited, so the ease of opening cans and jars becomes more important, as does product packaging and packaging resealability. So it might not necessarily be the food itself — more fruits and veggies, whole grains, or dairy and fluid intake — but also the way food is bought and consumed that starts to matter in different ways for older adults compared to younger generations,” said Lewin-Zwerdling.


The older generation remains an economically powerful group, representing a disproportionate amount of the nation’s wealth and spending power. According to Nielsen, boomers account for 49% of all spending on consumer packaged goods — or about $230 billion annually — and they dominate across almost every CPG category.


Boomers have fundamentally reinvented each life stage they’ve entered, so there’s no reason to believe aging and retirement will be any different. They remain an active generation and seek food products that will help them keep moving.


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