The Evolution of Baby Boomers.
Boomers' tastes and eating habits are evolving to match their changing health and wellness needs.
Baby boomers are leaving an indelible mark on American culture by reinterpreting "age" and inventing a new life stage. The chronological years associated with what might have been previously identified as "mid-life" or "old age" are distinctly changing with the boomer generation. Playful assertions that "50 is the new 40," etc., make this more evident. It seems boomers are in the process of inserting a new life stage that expands life expectancy beyond traditional conventions. They seek a new term, a different symbolic construct to communicate how they are engaging with this time in their life.
As baby boomers explore this new life chapter, they relish ways that enable them to enjoy a higher quality of life. They have a heightened interest in healthier lifestyles, with food and beverage products central to attaining these goals.
Boomers also have evolving tastes and eating habits that match their changing health and wellness needs. For this reason alone, food and beverage manufacturers, marketers and retailers need to pay close attention to boomers and travel with them down this new path for glimpses into the future marketplace of products and services for aging consumers.
Boomers are uniquely united in their belief that their choices "matter"; therefore, their shifting approaches to food and well-being bear new economic and cultural opportunities. Boomers were pioneers in the practice of seeking (and expecting) meaningful experiences in food consumption. Although many boomers grew up on frozen and canned food, they have transitioned to a greater appreciation for fresh food and food cooked from scratch.
It's also important to consider that:
* a0x20 Boomers learned early of the relationship between diet, fitness and good health.
* a0x20 It's important to speak to this cohort in terms of fun and exploration, not about "getting old."
* a0x20 Boomers monitor their health carefully and stay active through exercise because they want to "be around" for their loved ones.
A positive outlook
The illustration "You Have to Keep a Positive Attitude" on p. 24 illustrates one of the most fundamental challenges facing the aging boomer: the struggle for optimism. This image depicts the everyday effort to focus on the horizontal forward motion -- in the face of downward-pulling vertical forces. The affirming statements that offer a lightening or lifting of the spirits (in the balloons) show the integration of intention and action, as well as the fleeting and ephemeral character of these efforts. Although many boomers find that they are happier and more positive than they have been for years, they are also firmly aware of the passage of time, the fleeting nature of their pleasures, and the gradual losses of friends and family.
How is this struggle to remain optimistic linked to behavioral change? The diagram on p. 24 titled "The death of a friend results in..." offers just one example of how their struggle to remain optimistic is directly tied to food and beverage purchase decisions.
One of the most profound health-related concerns for boomers is weight management. Consequently, they view control of their weight as essential to feeling young and healthy. They find it requires a multi-level strategy: as a literal tool to prevent illness, as a process that symbolically represents empowerment and control, and as a physical emblem of good health. As they age, boomers typically make gradual changes toward portion control and eating in moderation.
As consumers who are occupied by health and wellness, boomers are increasingly making equations between how certain foods and beverages make them feel, and they enjoy sharing their observations with friends and family. They try to eat fresher foods and healthful snacks. Instead of cooking from cans and boxes, they prefer scratch cooking (mainly on weekends and special occasions), as well as composing meals from prepared supermarket foods, preassembled meal components or restaurant takeout.
For boomers, the world of food can be divided into "good/right" and "bad": good and bad fat, good and bad calories, good and bad sweeteners, good and bad cholesterol. Their view of the "bad" stuff includes processed packaged goods and restaurant brands they grew up with as their frame of reference. They associate the "good" or "right" foods with shopping at specialty retailers, the fresh perimeter and ethnic or gourmet sections of local supermarkets. "Good" foods are also associated with eating out and experimenting with new cuisines and flavors.
Organic and private brands
Boomer respondents are, by and large, familiar with the presumed benefits of organic foods and perceive them to be higher in quality or more healthful. Those who opt not to buy organic are often simply not yet persuaded that they need such a high-quality health benefit (for the price), but they are likely to recognize its potential value. For those who do buy organic, there is still a tendency to pick and choose by category, with produce and dairy considered the most crucial organic categories, followed by meat. Consumers feel they have more choices about organic options today, and are taking the time to explore and examine how and where foods are grown -- locally grown food, food that comes from more "healthy" places -- and not necessarily just those that are organic. Many consumers, however, have found the taste of organic food to be preferable and justify purchases on that basis as well. If price is a concern, they may opt for retailers' private brands, as doing so feels like a worthy compromise of taste, price and healthfulness.
When it comes to opportunities to develop new food and beverage experiences for boomers, remember that:
* a0x20 For many boomers, "ethnic" and premium foods constitute what's new and different (in contrast to Midwestern pressure-cooked meat and potatoes). New taste experiences can feel like a form of personal growth and pleasure, and they consider such experiences "good for them."
* a0x20 Boomers often monitor good fats versus bad fats, cholesterol, sweeteners and other factors, which means labeling and signage are more important than ever for this age group. At the same time, boomers have an insatiable curiosity for new culinary experiences and learning. Therefore, informative, creative narratives that relate quality, ingredients and culinary stories are likely to be most relevant to them.
* a0x20 Boomers seek personal growth by visiting ethnic restaurants as a way to branch out beyond traditional cooking. They look for products when eating out that are more exotic to bring such trends to their tables at home. Retailers could capitalize on these interests by highlighting ethnic products and global cuisines as ingredients and prepared foods to go, as well as their cooking methods.
* a0x20 Making up households that are typically either small, empty nests or single-person, boomers represent significant opportunities in providing smaller portioned take-away meals that cue premium, healthful or global.
Laurie Demeritt is CEO of The Hartman Group, a Bellevue, Wash.-based food and beverage consultancy, which works with clients to develop innovative marketing and growth strategies. For more information, visit www.hartman-group.com.