Through development of selected nonfood departments, supermarkets can go a long way in building the loyalty of their next big core shopper group, Generation X.
Named for the next generation after the baby-boon glut, today's young consumers, aged 18 to 34, are naturally inclined to gravitate to expanded destination departments found in many of today's big supermarket chains. Departments such as pet care, cookware, bath/body/aromatherapy, natural vitamins and health-related items, greeting cards, books and magazines, and video entertainment centers have particular appeal to this group's interests and purchasing patterns. Above all, they seem to value convenience.
One category where marketers have actively gone after the twentysomething group is greeting cards. American Greetings, Cleveland, launched a card program called Coffee house, which attracts Generation Xers with long, conversational copy and a hand-drawn and lettered look.
"Lifestyle references are very important," said spokeswoman Sara Eames, citing snowboarding and the coffee culture as examples. The company is currently testing another Generation X program, which incorporates edgy photos and concise text. American's Createacard personalized cards, available through kiosks, software and the Internet, are popular with twentysomethings as well.
Cincinnati-based Gibson Greetings introduced its Ripple Effects line, for consumers aged 18 to 33, in 1997. According to George White, general manager of Bullseye Productions (the strategic business unit within Gibson that oversees alternative products), research showed that there were actually two distinct groups within the broader Gen X audience, namely "Gen Nesters," aged 28 to 33, who are starting to settle down, marry, have families and buy homes, and "Gen Xers," aged 18 to 27, who are single apartment-dwellers who go out at night.
The first group is traditional, religious, saves more and values the work ethic, while Gen Xers are more consistent with the media's portrayal of them. As a result, Gibson split the line, focusing Ripple Effects on the Gen Nester and introducing a new line, Snaps, for the younger group.
The following provides a statistical profile of Generation X and may offer nonfood executives insights on how best to attract this diverse group, which can be difficult to reach.
Depending on the source, there were about 35 million to 57 million 18- to 34-year-old consumers in the United States as of 1997. Most are financially independent.
A Yankelovich study of U.S. women aged 18 to 34, conducted for the New York-based magazine Jane, published by SN's parent, Fairchild Publications, found that two-thirds are financially independent, that they maintain average credit card debt of $3,606 and that they spend 27% of their income on beauty care, entertainment and apparel.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, median income for Americans aged 25 to 34 is $23,609.
Younger consumers shop more often than those over age 35, according to research by Roper Starch Worldwide, New York. They also prefer to purchase locally. Seventy-nine percent of Generation X consumers shop frequently or fairly often at neighborhood stores, vs. 77% of those aged 30 to 39 and 73% of those over 50.
They visit supermarkets in numbers similar to the rest of the population; 89% have been to a supermarket in the last month, vs. 90% of consumers aged 30 to 49 and 85% of 50-plus shoppers, according to Roper.
Spectra Marketing, Chicago, which profiles consumer groups, found that 18- to 34-year-old households without children in the New York metropolitan area visited upscale supermarkets and convenience stores more often than older segments. They shopped at Food Emporium, 7-Eleven and Wawa Food Markets twice as often as consumers overall. "They're not very preoccupied with how they shop," said Tim Kregor, Spectra's group vice president of product management.
C. Britt Beem-er, chief executive officer of America's Research Group, Charleston, N.C., which interviews 5,000 to 8,000 consumers per week, noted that store appearance is important to Gen Xers; consumers under 35 are twice as influenced by a store's exterior than those over 40. Beemer cited one supermarket client that renovated the outside of its store and saw a 9-year shift down in the age of its average consumer.
Xers tend to be brand-loyal, and will pay a premium for products they value. "I find they're more brand-driven than their parents and as much as their grandparents," said Beemer.
Twentysomething consumers appreciate convenience, both during the shopping experience and as a product benefit, such as with easy-to-prepare meals or items that speed house cleaning.
Roche Bros. Supermarkets, Wellesley Hills, Mass., targets Generation X with prepared foods, a "sizable" part of the store's business at $300,000 per week, according to Frank Hanifan, director of sales. More than 30 hot meals are available every night, packaged for one, two or four. "That age group is not into cooking at home," said Hanifan.
Social issues affect Generation X purchase decisions, which can be negatively influenced by factors such as unhealthy ingredients, environmentally harmful production methods, excess packaging or controversial political stands by executives.
"It's fairly typical of this generation to have an awareness of the social concerns that surround business," said Karen Ritchie, executive vice president and director for General Motors Mediaworks, Warren, Mich. She's also the author of "Marketing to Generation X." "They're full believers in Mother Earth," noted Charles Gangi, a Chicago-based designer who owns the Generation X trademark and markets cologne and watches under that label. In March, Gangi launched Generation magazine, which is being sold in supermarkets, among other locations.
Research from various sources suggests that Gen Xers read newspaper circulars, but are not apt to look at ROP advertising. They do not cut coupons, but are influenced by in-store displays.
"They hate false advertising," said Gangi, echoing the sentiments of most experts. "They're cautious when they see something on sale. Is it a real sale or just a gimmick?"