Boomer Power: Defying Stereotypes of Aging, Making an Indelible Impact on Food Culture
No other generation has the spending power or the cultural significance as that of the Baby Boomer generation. Some companies overlook this generation, while others try to cater to it and misfire wildly.
By around 2030, one in every five U.S. residents will be retirement age, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 National Population Projections. Think of the significance of this: It means that for the first time in America’s history, older people are projected to outnumber children. By 2030, all Baby Boomers will be older than age 65. According to the Bureau’s forecast, by 2035, there will be 78 million people 65 years and older compared to 76.7 million under the age of 18. We are indeed living in a very transformative age.
And yet today, America’s marketers seem to have a guiding ethos that says to worship and court the youngest generations of consumers while eschewing the older generations.
Sure, we get the need to nurture the next generation of consumers; they are the long-term lifeblood of business, but the enormous economic power and culturally indelible impact over the life course of America’s Baby Boomer generation, now in their mid-50s to early 70s, is undisputable. There is also the not so subtle fact that Boomers are wealthy beyond all other generations — it’s the Boomers, not Millennials or Gen Z, who hold the spending power.
A recent Fast Company article makes the case that even though marketing to aging populations should be a sound business decision, how the world is designed often seems hostile to Boomers’ needs, “from microscopic screens to packaging that can’t be easily opened.” We see that some companies simply overlook the aging segment, while others try to cater to it and misfire wildly.
We believe there is great market potential in the Boomer segment, from cannabis to inherently functional food and beverage, but striking the right tone in messaging may require companies to listen more closely to these consumers. Here’s what we know about Boomers in 2019.
Healthy Living and Relationship With Food — Boomer Style
In 2017, we discussed how the Boomer generation is likely to reshape the American experience of aging. As with everything else they have touched, Boomers have transformed the imagery, lifestyle and experience of aging in ways many Americans today are still trying to comprehend. Today’s Boomers are blazing the trail for the younger generations to follow as they age.
Because older age groups will be outpacing the growth rate of younger age groups (and an elderly population will become the American majority for a sizeable share of the 21st century), the social and economic implications of an aging population should be of significant interest to food and beverage industry marketers.
Baby Boomers’ orientation to health and wellness continues to evolve. A growing number of Boomers perceive food as catalytic to one’s well-being and future health. More Boomers are bearing witness to their own parents living with chronic illnesses and passing on. Many Boomers themselves battle health problems such as chronic illness, high cholesterol, obesity and cancer or witness age-mates doing so. As a result, a stronger sense of one’s own potential morbidity and eventual mortality now exists as well as a desire to live thriving, active lives well beyond retirement. For this generation, food provides a much-desired sense of everyday control in minimizing the specter (or reality) of chronic health conditions and maximizing the quality of their future, for themselves as well as their children.
In addition to the use of food as preventive medicine, Boomers now link food to their sense of everyday well-being. They have firsthand experience and heightened awareness that dietary choices translate into energy level, cognitive/physical performance and mood. Healthier, easy-to-prepare and portable options — as well as healthy on-the-go fast food options — help Boomers manage busy lives, endowing them with the mobility and flexibility to eat well while pursuing multiple interests, opportunities and responsibilities. In addition to food’s service to well-being goals through its practical attributes, its sensory reward attributes have grown more culturally potent: the Boomer-generated “foodie culture” roots in a growing desire for novelty, reinvention, unique flavor sensation and more strategic expenditure of high-calorie indulgences.
Another important factor affecting Baby Boomers’ food purchases is fluctuation in household status. Our research has found that grown children leaving home, and separation, divorce and remarriage all bear significant impact on wellness orientation and food-purchasing behavior. For example, many Boomers are now empty nesters, affording them more expendable income and time. What food products will gain relevance to these consumers? More and more Boomers have retired or will soon reach retirement. How will a fixed income change their dietary habits and what food products will gain or lose value against their changing health priorities?
Boomers’ changing relationships with food, health and wellness are occurring in a labyrinth of dining, product and retail options. After all, with an undercurrent of health and wellness impacting lifestyle choices, this is the generation that drove demand for fresh, less processed, local and real foods.
Don’t Overlook or Underestimate Today’s Boomers
There has been, perhaps, no more pervasive lifestyle shift in the American contemporary scene than the desire among Baby Boomers to lead active, healthy lives. Although the pursuit of healthy living is not unique to Boomers, it is the initiative taken by aging Boomers to create a new way of living based on the pursuit of not just well-being but being well that has driven permanent changes in American food culture and healthy living.
As older consumers continue to look for ways to better themselves or improve the quality of their lives, they will affect the food and beverage industry in new ways. Time is becoming increasingly important to them, which translates into more conscious planning and more careful choices that express their values and aspirations. This aging population has many options from which to choose, and they are looking for more than just a particular retailer, restaurant, product or service. They want their purchase to count: to satisfy mental, emotional and even spiritual needs as well. They are willing to be adventurous and experiment, which opens many doors for the food companies that cater to them.
Health + Wellness 2019 Report
Health + Wellness 2019: From Moderation to Mindfulness explores what’s new, what’s mainstream, and what’s around the bend in the world of health and wellness.