Many Boomers and seniors grew up being told, “No dessert until you’ve finished your vegetables.” That parental pronouncement led to spinach hidden in napkins, broccoli smuggled to the dog, and, for some, a lifelong aversion to anything green.
But, these days, more and more in this age group are learning that it’s never too late to start eating your veggies. Two and a half million Americans over the age of 55 have made the switch to vegetarianism, and the even-more-extreme version of a plant-based diet—veganism—is going mainstream.
The word “vegan” has steadily increased in Google searches—it is now up to 36 million hits. Chipotle offers vegan burritos. Even White Castle is testing veggie sliders in selected markets. And Kaiser Permanente, the country’s largest HMO, recommends that its members eat a plant-based diet.
The vegan trend has also impacted the dairy industry. Cow milk consumption is down, while the sales of soy, almond, and other milk substitutes are up.
It also doesn’t hurt that many famous Boomers have gone vegan, from Bill Clinton and Al Gore to Ellen DeGeneres and Portia De Rossi. And it’s not only celebrities but regular folks that are eating green to stave off the chronic conditions that plague four out of five people over age 65.
Fred Willms, 81, of Medford, Ore., has experienced the health benefits of a plant-based diet. Although he grew up on meat and potatoes, Fred became a vegan at 78 at the urging of a physician who gave him “The China Study,” a book that details the connection between nutrition and diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
After three months on a vegan diet—even with some cheats—Fred lost 30 pounds, and his cholesterol dropped 45 points. Three years later, his cholesterol, blood glucose levels, and other numbers continue to improve. At a recent checkup, his physician called colleagues into the room to admire Fred’s impressive numbers.
“It’s all due to the diet,” said Fred, who has seen veganism gaining traction among the over-65 crowd at his retirement community. Three years ago, he was one of a handful of residents who were eating vegan, and now he estimates that 50 people at his community are following plant-based eating guidelines.
His wife Lee, although not a vegan herself, has also seen a shift among her friends. “Living in this setting makes it easier,” she said. “Every day, we have a huge salad bar with lots of choices. It’s much easier than trying to do it on your own.”
That’s why marketers could fill a need by making a vegan diet simpler and more affordable for mature consumers who want to make a change but are finding it challenging to do so on their own.
At supermarkets: Many in this age bracket have spent years in the kitchen—they’re ready for someone else to take a turn. They’d appreciate a wider, tastier selection of healthy, convenient vegan foods. They’d also be receptive to coupons and special offers.
At restaurants: More soy options at salad bars would make it easier for Boomers and seniors to follow a plant-based diet when eating with friends and family. Low-cost, vegan early bird specials would also be welcomed.
Beyond the food industry, there are other vegan-related marketing possibilities. Businesses are already promoting everything from vegan vacations to vegan-friendly retirement communities. As 10,000 Boomers turn 65 every day, more and more of them will want to combat chronic health conditions, so the plant-based eating trend and its related marketing opportunities will most likely continue to grow faster than zucchini in a summer garden.