Healthful Food Boom for Boomers = Healthful Boon for Manufacturers, Supermarkets, Retailers, Restaurateurs

Tasty. Healthful. Convenient. Economical.

Think you can’t do all four? Think again.

These are the demands of the Baby Boomer generation, and food marketers are paying attention now more than ever. Although younger consumers who are considered the most attractive target audience for almost any other product category, consumer behavior studies indicated that single-person households, especially those in urban markets such as New York, Chicago, etc., don’t cook for themselves, and are more likely to consume meals away from home, and choosing outlets that don’t offer the most healthful options.

Meanwhile, Boomers are among the most health-conscious target audiences for manufacturers, supermarkets and quick-service restaurants. For example, Panera, whose 58-year-old CEO knows this is a literal sweet spot for him; SaladWorks, which offers almost limitless combinations; and the New York-centric QSR chain, Cosi. Health experts and media gurus alike – from Dr. Mehmet Oz to dietitians to exercise physiologists – are leveling pronouncements against the many myths about healthful foods, i.e., they are too expensive, too time-consuming to prepare, and not tasty enough.

Not true!

From the value and versatility of the humble egg, to other convenience foods for people on-the-go, the food marketing world is full of ideas to capture the attention of the vast crowd of over-50 consumers. And nowhere is that more obvious than in the supermarket industry. In fact, many favorite foods that have been supermarket staples for decades are now available in healthful, economical, convenient and tasty versions that don’t require a culinary degree to enjoy. A few quick examples:

“PB&J”: Adult fans of peanut butter know that there are more healthful options of the spread now than ever before – from reduced-calorie versions to honey-sweetened to 100% organic. There are more flavors, varieties and brands of fruit spreads, jams, jellies and preserves available in most supermarkets than anyone could make at home or buy from a small-batch supplier – and the flavors are superb. Long ago, New York Times columnist Jane Brody cited the peanut butter sandwich as her survival food for airport delays – and this was in the days when plane flights were nowhere near the epic odysseys they’ve become today.

Whole-grain breads: Speaking of PB&J, the variety of sandwich conduits available at a local supermarket is seemingly endless – whether whole-grain sliced, pita, rolls, brioches, Italian, Portuguese, French, on and on, take your pick, because you can! Not to mention the exhaustive array of healthful and exciting condiments, even among the low-sodium varieties.

Frozen Vegetables:Not only has the produce aisle gotten very sophisticated since the 1980s advent of the formerly exotic and now ubiquitous arugula and cilantro, to name just two, but the frozen aisle is positively space-age. The fact that plain spinach in a frozen block from the supermarket is something boomers’ moms prepared in the 1950s doesn’t make that spinach any less healthful. In fact, it’s just as healthful as, and could be more healthful than, that wonderful green stuff from the organic farmer’s market. Often it is actually fresher, thanks to modern processing techniques that quick-cook and flash-freeze vegetables at the height of their freshness. (Many thanks to Dr. Mehmet Oz for reminding all of us who read his 12/12 article in TIME Magazine of the handiness – and healthfulness – of our mothers’ spinach block).

Those are just three categories where food manufacturers and supermarkets are making it easier, more economic and more convenient to make healthful eating easier and a more flavorful experience. While it might seem obvious that affluent, achiever-Boomers are more interested in health than any other demographic, what has become evident to manufacturers and retailers is that we will spend the money on high-quality, convenient but NOT ridiculously expensive or “exotically sourced” foods.

The economic situation driving many boomers to multi-generational households, taking care of boomerang children, elderly parents and two-career duties, etc., also means boomers have less time than ever in their adult lives. It’s no wonder that every possible variation on healthful and convenient seafood, meats, legumes and dairy foods has also made the supermarket the one-stop community center of choice for so many boomers. In fact, many supermarket chains such as Ahold’s Stop & Shop division in the northeast U.S., and West-Coast based Hy-Vee markets, among others, are hiring dietitians and trainers to lead special health education events for consumers of all ages, and to help guide consumers through the supermarket’s most healthful product offerings.

A leading supermarket trade study reveals additional interesting statistics about Boomers’ food choices:

  • Portable foods make up one-quarter of our daily caloric intake in the United States. The 50-plus crowd is creating demand for healthful foods that are also fast and convenient.
  • U.S. consumers over 50 are becoming increasingly concerned about heart health, brain and vision health, and the prevention of cancer prevention. We worry about hypertension, diabetes, and bone loss/osteoporosis. Manufacturers are responding with a wide variety of healthful economical foods.
  • 50-plus consumers are more educated than in past generations, and therefore we’re more analytical (and sometimes skeptical) about the health claims we see on products.

Other important trends we’re seeing:

  • Boomers – especially women boomers – are causing physicians and other health professionals to be more accountable. The site of smart women poring over Internet health information sites on their I-Pads while sitting not so patiently in their doctors’ waiting rooms has become commonplace. And boomers are seeking out dietitians, personal trainers, executive coaches and therapists the way we seek out hairdressers, manicurists and shopping bargains: thoughtfully, analytically and with a strategic plan and budget in mind. Gone are the days of “Well, you know best, doctor (…or colorist or therapist).”
  • Boomers are more sophisticated about cooking and food than ever before, and scrutinize restaurants accordingly. All the more reason that we are eating IN more, and patronizing their local supermarkets because the supermarket industry has become much smarter and more sophisticated about cultivating this important target. Prepared foods departments have always been popular, with freshly-stocked salad bars becoming even more popular for meals on the go.
  • There is a real opportunity for food manufacturers who offer foods that are portable and at the same time tasty and healthful! Supermarkets are remodeling so formats are easier to navigate efficiently. Many retailers have visible, detailed and easy to digest (pun intended) information on the taste and health features of multiple varieties of apples, tomatoes and other versatile produce. Many have healthful food “destination aisles” as well as “on-the-go” food aisles.
  • Most major supermarket chains now have sophisticated data about shoppers’ preferences, so as to provide manufacturers with data that helps them serve consumers with more of the choices we prefer. Savvy manufacturers in the cereal, dairy, frozen food and whole grains categories, among others, have created marketing campaigns that are media sites of their own, cultivating consumers with diet information, health tips, quick-prep ideas and the like to generate more sales and preference among over-50 consumers. Kellogg’s Special K™ is one such product, teaming up with grocers, providing free health screenings and education info, and offering promotional coupons and samples. Dannon’s Activia™ brand yogurt takes an even bolder approach, utilizing actor Jamie Leigh Curtis as an “in-your-face” spokesperson for women’s regularity. Now THAT’S DARING!

Hooray for all the marketers, supermarkets, and to a certain extent, national restaurant chains such as Panera, that recognize and appreciate Boomers are literally putting our money where our mouths are. The mantra “Attention must be paid” is not lost on smart food marketers and the gurus that influence health-minded consumers.

Here are just two interesting articles with more info on these trends. Check out Dr. Oz’ story in TIME magazine, 12/3/12, which was the cover story: "Give (Frozen) Peas a Chance — and Carrots Too. "

Also, “How grocers can capitalize on one of the most important demographic groups,” which you can read here: CLICK HERE


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