Across the ages
by Charlotte Atchley
While there will always be a market for new products that appeal to a broad audience, the power of the wide-appeal product dwindles in favor of niche, specialized baked foods and snacks. Consumers look for products that target their specific needs and desires.
“Think about a huge company like Frito-Lay,” said Susan Viamari, editor, Times and Trends magazine, SymphonyIRI, Chicago. “Now you have all types of Lay’s chips. You have the Tostitos artisan line, the lesser sodium/low salt varieties. Then you have Doritos with crazy flavors for added excitement. Then you have Popchips that give potato chips a whole new texture, so they don’t appeal to everyone, but they definitely appeal to certain segments in the marketplace.”
These new variations on potato chips and other salted snacks are an effort to reach various segments of consumers. One way to reach out to specific shoppers is to consider the age gap.
Two generations exert major influence on the food industry today — baby boomers, aged 48 to 67, for their sheer numbers and millennials, aged 20 to 35, for their changing attitudes toward food.
With their established incomes and lifestyles, baby boomers outpace all other generational groups as far as buying power, and as they age, their expectations of food change. According to SymphonyIRI, baby boomers spent more than $160 billion on consumer packaged goods this past year. Their buying power is formidable.
Millennials are just now establishing themselves as household leaders. “It’s important to note that they don’t have the spending power of boomers yet, but they may down the road,” Ms. Viamari said. “It’s an important time for them because they’re forming their habits and loyalties, and some of these are going to be a part of their lifelong behaviors.”
Age inherently affects a person’s station in life by directly influencing what they seek as they shop for groceries. Knowing the targeted consumer and then understanding more specifically their expectations of food can help bakers and snack producers more effectively market new products to certain consumers or reposition existing products to more specific audiences.
Health for all ages
It is no secret that Americans, in general, are concerned about health and look to food to improve their overall wellness. SymphonyIRI found that three-fourths of all consumers are trying to eat healthier today to save money on health care later. On average, 30% of all adults are concerned about weight loss, and 29% are worried about stress management. However, exactly what they expect food to do for their health varies from generation to generation.
As people grow older, their health concerns become more focused on problems associated with aging. For example, SymphonyIRI found that instead of weight and stress, the top two health concerns of seniors, aged 68 and older, are cholesterol and heart-related issues. Baby boomers tend to seek out foods with health claims that meet certain dietary needs such as low in sodium or fat, according to Sara Monnette, director of consumer research, Technomic, Inc., Chicago.
These shoppers look for foods with added nutritional value. SymphonyIRI reported that 44% of seniors say they eat whole grains most days, a number that declines across age groups until landing at only 34% of millennials consuming whole grains that frequently.
While older consumers may be filling their shopping carts with bakery products and snack food that call out specific health benefits, younger consumers tend to shy away from these traditional health claims. “Generation X and millennials feel strongly that these traditional health claims can negatively impact the taste of the food,” Ms. Monnette said. These groups reach for foods that tout contemporary claims such as natural or organic.
Snack producers have caught on to the diversity of what healthy means to consumers. Frito-Lay North America, Inc., Plano, TX, shapes its healthy snack innovation around reducing sodium, using natural and exciting flavors, incorporating whole grains and promoting the gluten-free status of its snacks.
“We really focus on what people are getting and the experience they have with the products,” said Kristin Walsh, director, influencer and consumer engagement, Frito-Lay. “We want to offer a wide variety so there is something for everyone.”
Saving time and money
Although a weak economy has affected everyone in the past four years, millennials are forging their shopping habits and brand loyalties in this time of financial uncertainty. Baby boomers, who are more secure financially and entrenched in their buying habits, still have experienced a need for frugality but maybe not to the extent of millennials.
“Millennials are more interested in living frugally because they have all those financial pressures, and they just don’t have a lot. It’s important to know these people are eating at home more and taking food from home to work even more,” Ms. Viamari said.
With a slow job market, millennials face low starting salaries or are even trying to make ends meet through part-time work. Also, they often are trying to pay off student loans. This leads to price being a driving factor in food purchases for this population segment. In fact, according to SymphonyIRI research, millennials are more likely than any other generational group to shop at supercenters, mass retailers and drug stores for their groceries.
“They are living more frugally than other segments, so they are looking closely at low everyday pricing and value image,” Ms. Viamari observed. “They shop the drug channel because it is very convenient.” With strapped bank accounts, busy schedules and growing families, millennials seek convenience from drug stores and great value from mass retailers and supercenters.
Baby boomers, on the other hand, search for a great price but not necessarily the bulk or noise of mass retailers or supercenters. Many baby boomers today have reached the empty-nest phase of their lives and have no need for what these stores offer. To get the kind of value they need, more baby boomers are turning to dollar stores for grocery purchases. Dollar stores offer more concise choices and smaller shopping environments that help older generations focus on their needs and get in and out of the store quickly.
When it comes to saving money, it isn’t all about price. Cutting waste is important, too. Skinner Baking, Omaha, NE, developed its J. Skinner Perfect for Two line of pastries after discovering that 57% of consumers live in one- or two-person households, which means these consumers are often trapped in the dilemma of buying too much or too little. It isn’t a stretch to imagine the majority of these households include boomers, who have been Skinner Baking’s core consumers, and millennials, who are pre-parenthood and have been the target of the J. Skinner brand. To fill this need and help these households save, Skinner Baking’s Perfect for Two line consists of 8- to 10-oz pastries instead of the usual 16- to 20-oz varieties.
It’s important that bakers and snack producers understand their consumers and what they want. If the targeted shoppers want health and wellness, find out what benefits they seek and aim the product toward those needs. If consumers are looking for a fun factor, do they want gourmet taste for a value price, exciting and unexpected flavors, or quick and easy snacks? Knowing the target consumer’s age range can provide insight into these details.
Despite telltale differences between millennials and boomers, however, bakers and snack manufacturers need to strike a balance between winning over new generations without alienating the old, Ms. Monnette advised. “It is important to look for commonalities between the two groups and focus marketing efforts there first and foremost,” she said.