Baby Boomers: The Forgotten Demographic?
Sept. 09, 2010
by Jennifer Barnett Fox
In the not-so-distant past, the idea of marketers targeting baby boomers evoked a why-bother response. Traditional logic purported wooing younger consumers would result in a loyal and lifelong following that would grow over the years. But smart marketers are realizing the immense size and buying power of the baby boomer demographic is too important to neglect any longer.
Recently Chicago, IL-based research companies The Nielsen Co. and SymphonyIRI both advised marketers to re-evaluate their stance on marketing to boomers and consider them a crucial and powerful demographic. Nielsen found boomers dominate 1,023 out of 1,083 consumer packaged goods categories. And the Food Marketing Institute reported the group represents 50% of total spending power.
Broadly defined as those born from 1946 to 1964, baby boomers are a formidable collection of variably defined subsegments. Some statisticians attempt to divide boomers into those 40 to 49 years old and those aged 50 to 64. Labels for the two groups abound. The 50-to-64 group are referred to as matures, late, shadow or older boomers, while the 40-to-49 group are categorized as young boomers or Generation Jones, a term coined by cultural historian Jonathan Pontell as the 53 million adults “stuck between Woodstock and Lollapalooza.”
“There will be a huge number of people over the age of 65, 75 and 85 over the coming decade,” said Doug Anderson, senior vice-president, research and thought leadership, The Nielsen Co. “We’ve never had a population this big this old before. This is not something for which demographers and anthropologists have tons of models sitting around that they can talk about.”
Roman Meal, Tacoma, WA, is no stranger to marketing to the boomer demographic. Five years ago, the company chose to specifically target health-conscious females age 50 to 65. While its focus on boomers is fairly recent, the goal to provide natural whole-grain products has not changed since 1912. While the manufacturer of whole-grain bread and hot cereals has dealt with outside concerns that focusing on the boomer demographic is too restrictive, Roman Meal continues to experience great success with its products, over-indexing among families with teenagers and Hispanic households. Product and market research provider, Mintel, Chicago, IL, reported that 25% of boomers have one or more children living at home and 7% have grandchildren in the home.
“The focus on the boomer demographic makes sense because of the loyal Roman Meal consumer,” said Gary Jensen, president, Roman Meal. “I suspect that more and more companies will realize that they cannot ignore a demographic this large and will begin to look for products to satisfy this segment.”
According to Luis Pedroza, vice-president of marketing, Roman Meal, 37.6% of Roman Meal’s retail sales come from boomers,. “As people age they generally give more attention to themselves in matters of health and wellness,” he said. “Roman Meal products are made to help consumers manage the aging process and live a healthier, better life.”
Mintel found that 62% of baby boomers say, “The way my parents or older adults have aged (health, housing, situations, quality of life) make me determined to do things differently.” And for many boomers that means a desire to maintain youth and vitality through health-and-wellness and participation in technologies such as smartphones and social media outlets. SeniorNet found that two-thirds of Americans age 50 to 64 use the Internet.
In February, General Mills, Minneapolis, MN, announced it will direct more attention to baby boomers during the next five years. The company discovered that consumers over age 55 are the highest per capita consumers of cereal, with whole-grain-rich Honey Nut Cheerios, Fiber One and MultiGrain Cheerios being a large part of the company’s sales growth.
PepsiCo, Purchase, NY, also plans to focus on the boomer group with plans to reduce sodium, sugar and saturated fat in the company’s products. “As a company that was traditionally focused on a younger person, we’re now learning to set our sights on the young person and the boomer,” said Indra Nooyi, c.e.o., in an Advertising Age article.
But with such a large demographic, it’s important not to lump all boomers into a static group of attributes. Health Focus International, a consumer research organization for health, wellness and nutrition trends, recognizes a number of differences among baby boomers. Those aged 40 to 49 typically still have children living at home and a more harried lifestyle. This group looks for benefits to feel more energetic and less stressed. Meanwhile, those 50 to 64 can afford a more “me” approach because their children have left the home and the issues of stress and tiredness are no longer as prevalent, according to Barbara Davis, vice-president, Health Focus International, St. Petersburg, FL. Also, the later has a greater focus on personal health, particularly bone and joint health. She cautioned that the younger boomers can have negative associations with being labeled baby boomers.
“The 50-to-64 age group is not as concerned about longevity; they want to maintain activity levels and continue to contribute to their work, leisure and exercise habits in the same way,” Ms. Davis said. “At the age of 50, people focus on managing high blood pressure and cholesterol, and they start to address some of the issues that are not as top-of-mind earlier in life.”
At the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting in July, Suzy Badaracco, president, Culinary Tides, Tualatin, OR, pointed out that consumers are now more willing to discuss health problems such as inflammation, digestive health and cognitive function. “Pharmaceuticals are breaking down taboos for the food industry, and that opens the door,” she said.
Maintenance of optimum digestion is one later-life health issue creating discussion among boomers. Attune Foods, San Francisco, CA, focuses on producing “real food” that helps people feel better inside. The Attune group produces Uncle Sam high-fiber cereals, Erewhon gluten-free cereals and Attune probiotic chocolate bars and piobiotic-enhanced Granola Münch.
“A lot of marketers have the belief that people form their product and brand preferences in their 20s and stick to them throughout their lives,” said Daniel Wiser, brand manager, Attune Foods. “This ignores the fact that people change as they get older, and digestive health is something that people often start to care about as they age.”
The company works to stay in contact with consumers and provide communities that promote discussion and sharing. Attune Foods’ Facebook page boasts 4,500 fans, and the company uses Twitter to deliver health tips and relevant news to its followers. It also works with third-party educators such as dieticians, nutritionists, food bloggers and editors to share information about its products.
Today’s 50+ shoppers are very different from their parents — embracing technology and the latest trends, according to research conducted by Health Focus. The group found that 65% of boomers use social networking sites such as Facebook and rely on the Internet to find information on health and nutrition.
A majority of boomers are also smartphone owners, and 21% use a mobile phone for their food information needs, according to Latitude, an international research consultancy based in Beverly, MA. “Essentially, what we’re seeing is that individuals of all ages, regardless of current offerings, understand that there’s a real opportunity for mobile to fill information gaps and to improve everyday experiences,” said Marina Miloslavsky, senior analyst at Latitude. “And moreover, end-users are a great resource for pinpointing what those specific opportunities should look like.”
End-users and one-to-one communication play a significant role in Roman Meal’s marketing. As a result, the company’s database is populated by 100% opt-in consumers with whom it communicates on a frequent basis. Monday morning meetings at Roman Meal feature a “Voice of the Consumer” segment where employees share a story from a consumer.
“This helps us put a face with the consumer and makes it personal for what they are doing,” Mr. Jensen said. “We want all employees to realize the sacred trust consumers put in the Roman Meal product, and this is a business that is unified around a common vision of health and whole grains.”
An increased focus on whole grains has enabled Kraft Foods, Northfield, IL, to appeal not only to its loyal brand advocates but also to those wanting to increase health benefits. In July, Kraft announced a whole-grain makeover for 100 of its products over the next three years. Kraft’s Ritz and Premium crackers will now include whole grains, the whole-grain content of Wheat Thins will double, and the amount of whole grains in Honey Maid graham crackers will quadruple.
Health-and-wellness are crucial touchpoints for connecting with boomers, but don’t forget to also appeal to their desire for individualism and achievement, said Amy Scott, marketing consultant, Cattywampus Consulting, Fort Myers, FL. She suggested marketers also zero in on social causes that speak to the idealism of boomers.
With 78 million boomers in the US and one American turning 50 every 7 seconds, this is one target demographic bakers and snack producers can’t afford to miss. “This is a loyal group, if you can earn their business, they will become advocates,” Ms. Scott said.