Understanding today’s aging consumers: Healthy living and adventures with food

It wasn't so long ago that the cultural spotlight was on older consumers, those 55 years of age and older. Comprised of baby boomers and the silent generation, they've become an aging collective of consumers seemingly forgotten in food culture, passed over in favor of the new generations du jour: millennials, Gen X and Gen Z. But food and beverage companies would be wise to revisit these icons of yesterday and get to know them again. Why? Because quite simply, while marketers crave and court kids 17 and under and the 18-to-49 demographic, the world is actually getting older. We’re closing in on a milepost marker not seen in human history before: The US Census estimates that as we get close to 2020, the number of people 65 and older will surpass those under 5 for the first time. And of course, we’re living longer.

Speculation on how the boomer generation is likely to reshape the American experience of aging has been lively. As with everything else they have touched, many have long surmised that boomers are likely to transform the imagery, lifestyle and experience of old age in ways Americans are just now beginning to comprehend. The new 50-and-older segment will eat, shop and live differently than today's 50-plus segment. Food and beverage distinctions like fresh, less processed, local and real will drive this new aging consumer with an underlying current of health and wellness impacting lifestyle choices. Such changes signal that approaches to aging are shifting, and marketing to new aging consumers requires a holistic point of view.

There has been, perhaps, no more pervasive lifestyle shift in the American contemporary scene than the desire among baby boomers to lead active, healthy lives. Although the pursuit of healthy living is not unique to Boomers and more elderly consumers, it is the initiative taken by aging Boomers to create a new way of living based on the pursuit of not just wellbeing but being well that has driven permanent changes in America food culture and healthy living.

To better understand the shape of these trends and the permutations for different segments of the marketplace, it is helpful to look carefully at boomer and silent consumers and their everyday strategies for living healthy, staying active and being well. The Hartman Group’s Health + Wellness 2017 report documents how health and wellness is defined in fairly significantly different ways between generations. Among older consumers, for example, 72% of silents (ages 72 to 84) and 62% of baby boomers believe that "being alert and bright minded" is a good definition compared to just 41% of millennials. “Having the energy for an active lifestyle” is considered another way to define health and wellness by a similar number of silents (72%) and 65% of baby boomers compared to just 52% of millennials.

Similar variances between the young and the old occur across a broad range of possible definitions of health and wellness underscoring the fact that overall, older consumers are more likely to think of health and wellness in broader terms than younger consumers, likely reflecting the larger role it plays in their lives.

While they may differ in attitudes toward how wellness is defined, our Health + Wellness 2017 report finds that all generations share a similar vision of how wellness feels. Wellness is the feeling of when aspirations and actions come into happy alignment — without force, without discomfort, and without conflict with other desires. But the generations differ on how one actually achieves the feeling of wellness as depicted in the following three insights on wellness strategies where we find that:

  • Older consumers are more likely to believe their diets are healthy compared to millennials
  • Silent and boomer consumers are more likely to believe they are knowledgeable about health and wellness but younger generations are more likely to seek new information in this area
  • Perhaps due to lifestage, silent consumers are more proactive about treating health issues than both boomers and younger generations

As older consumers continue to look for ways to better themselves or improve the quality of their lives, they will affect the food and beverage industry in new ways. Time is becoming increasingly important to aging consumers, which translates into more conscious planning and more careful choices that express their values and aspirations. The aging population has many options from which to choose and they are looking for more than just a particular retailer, restaurant, product or service. They want their purchases to count: to satisfy mental, emotional and even spiritual needs as well. They are willing to be adventurous and experiment, which opens many doors for the food companies that cater to them.

Because older age groups will be outpacing the growth rate of younger age groups (and an elderly population will become the American majority for a sizeable share of the 21st century) the social and economic implications of an aging population should be of significant interest to food and beverage industry marketers. We’d suggest that this might be the right time to revisit these darlings of yesteryear and get to know what health and wellness means to them today.

As CEO of The Hartman Group, Demeritt drives the vision, strategy, operations and results-oriented culture for the company's associates as The Hartman Group furthers its offerings of tactical thinking, consumer and market intelligence, cultural competency and innovative intellectual capital to a global marketplace.

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