Boomer Consumer Aging Out?

by , Jan 23, 2012, 9:48 AM
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Aside from exercise, a popular New Year’s resolution is “eating better.” To many in the Boomer demographic, that can translate into “organic” or “natural.”

Once only the province of hippies, certified health nuts and die-hard vegetarians, foods labeled “organic” and “natural” have found their way into the mainstream, moving well past the typical tofu and soy milk offerings. Natural and organic foods and beverages (NOFB) can now be found on the shelves of major retailers, while multinational food manufacturers have partnered with successful organic companies to expand this lucrative footprint. Strong brands include Kashi, Stonyfield Farm and Nature’s Path, to name a few.

Produce rings up as the most popular organic food category, joining snacks, juices, seasonings and prepared foods, according to industry trade publication Prepared Foods (which also notes that 60% of U.S. households report using organic food or food products). Today, this $19 billion market has shown strong growth despite the economic downturn and offers great opportunities for food and beverage producers and marketers who understand what the consumer wants from NOFB.

Our recent research has shown that a major focus for mature consumers (particularly Boomers) is food and meal preparation. They are seeking healthy, flavorful and affordable options for everything from main meals to snacks. Besides sticking with familiar favorites, they are branching out, trying new foods, ingredients and recipes. Increasingly, they are looking for convenient prepared foods that let them cut back on the work required in the kitchen.

However, research has also shown that the likelihood of purchasing NOFB declines with age. It’s been shown that affluent consumers younger than 45 and those with children 18 and younger are more inclined to buy organic in most categories, and, thus, have been the primary target for marketers. Many Boomers, on the other hand, grew up in a world where traditional groceries did not include any of these products. This lack of exposure makes it more difficult to convince them that there is a problem with conventional foods or a need to buy NOFB.

It’s also a matter of trust. Older adults are more skeptical about food labeling, having witnessed a larger number of health food fads and more news cycles featuring companies facing fines or even lawsuits due to fraudulent label claims.

Many Boomers, in their quest for foods with anti-aging properties, are also realizing that organic and natural foods alone are not the answer. As a result, they are instead opting for nutrient-dense foods (and even juicing) to gain real anti-aging benefits that can be seen and felt.

So how can NOFB marketers keep the attention of the mature consumer?

Focus on Reality: Mature consumers appreciate straight, candid communication when it comes to product features and benefits. Food and beverage marketers will stand a better chance of retaining their loyalty if they focus on the real benefits of health, nutrition and minimal environmental impact.

Build Trust: A primary focus should be on establishing credibility. Many older adults (especially those on fixed incomes) may have abandoned the NOFB market during the economic downturn mainly for financial reasons, but they may also have abandoned it because they simply don’t understand or trust the industry.

Know Where They Shop: Natural food stores are popular across age groups, while older adults are more likely than younger ones to buy NOFB at traditional supermarkets.

Don’t Avoid Digital: NOFB marketers cannot view social media and other digital marketing channels as a fad or an afterthought, particularly in light of the mature market’s increasing use of these mediums. Nature’s Path, for example, has more than 193,000 Facebook fans and more than 9,000 Twitter followers. Adding social media to traditional campaigns will be effective in reaching this market and will help to foster trust and loyalty.

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