The future for convenience, better-for-you and ethnic food couldn't be better, thanks to the purchasing power of baby boomers.
Since the median age for adults today is 44, the group's values are having a big effect on what is bought and sold. And since boomers account for about one-third of the U.S. population, their opinions tend to become the consensus.
Bernie Rogan, spokesman for Shaw's Supermarkets, East Bridgewater, Mass., noted that older boomers have developed a strong desire to live long, which is helping to fuel the healthy trend.
"It starts to occur to you when you get to 40 that more healthful eating habits can prolong your life," he said. "That attitude is heightened as you get older."
Boomers have more disposable income and the desire and ability to purchase healthy items as well. As a result, Shaw's has seen an increasing interest in natural and organic products.
Referring to the proposed organics regulations, Rogan said that when a clear definition of organic is approved at the federal level, life will be a lot easier for food retailers.
Mike Rourke, spokesman for A&P, Montvale, N.J., agreed that boomers are driving the health trend. In response to the increased demand for better-for-you products, A&P has expanded its natural-food offerings, Rourke said. The chain has also integrated most natural and low-fat choices. They are indicated at the shelf with perpendicular tag signs.
Shaw's has also integrated organic and natural food in the grocery aisles, since there's a greater demand for these items, Rogan explained.
While boomers prefer healthy choices, they don't want to sacrifice taste. George Moschis, director of the Center for Mature Studies and professor of marketing at Georgia State University, Atlanta, said that baby boomers, as opposed to older adults (defined as 55 or older), are less ready to sacrifice taste, and less likely to consume products for their dietary or health benefits.
"Boomers are more aware of the benefits of eating healthy foods, but older people are more willing to sacrifice taste because of dietary restrictions. As long as [boomers] can eat everything, they will. Knowledge alone is not a factor," he said.
Boomers cannot be easily categorized as only natural-food shoppers. This is because many buy groceries for people in their households who may have different tastes.
Because boomers often have multiple roles -- spouse, parent and caregiver -- they not only buy for themselves, but for other family members, including parents and adult children who live with them.
Adults are influenced by what children eat, especially because it's not convenient to make two meals, according to Dave Jenkins, vice president and general manager of National Eating Trends, NPD Group, Rosemont, Calif.
As reported in SN, adults with children eat more frozen dinners and entrees, presweetened cereal, Pop Tarts, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, Hamburger Helper, macaroni and cheese, Mexican dishes, burgers and peanut butter and jelly than do childless adults.
Another boomer trend generating change in the supermarket is a willingness to explore a greater diversity of foods, said Rogan. Chinese, Thai and Japanese products are becoming more popular, for example.
"International aisles have grown. In some of our stores, the diversity of the community, and/or its appetites, has spilled into an additional aisle, and our aisles are 90 to 100 feet long," Rogan said.
"Contrary to stereotypes, New England is as diverse as any part of the country," he said.
"Baby Boomers Turning 50," a report by Find/SVP, New York, notes that boomers' "more sophisticated palates enjoy more exotic, more flavorful and ethnic cuisine."
The boomers also inspired the health and fitness trends that began in the 1980s, and will likely remain interested in healthy eating, since people generally become more concerned with their health as they age, the report said.
The Find/SVP report also attributes the growth of medically directed foods -- such as milk alternatives for the lactose-intolerant or nutritionally fortified foods -- to boomer demand.
Convenience will continue to be a strong factor in food-purchasing decisions of baby boomers, according to both Find/SVP and retailers.
"Probably the biggest single thing [aimed at baby boomers] is home-meal replacement programs geared toward working families," Rourke said.
While "meal solution" often means deli takeout, it also means nutritious, low-fat frozen foods, said Rourke.
In addition, A&P makes recipes available in Center Store aisles, as well as at front-end interactive kiosks, where frequent shoppers find out the day's discounts. And Shaw's Home in a Hurry meal-solutions program is growing.
Rogan said a prototype of a convenience store-within-a-store has been installed at the front end in two of Shaw's Connecticut units. Customers can buy items such as milk, pizza and condiments without going through the main checkout.
Bob Lutz, director of merchandising at Certified Grocers of California, Los Angeles, said that breakfast has gone to a new level of convenience at his stores, where Kellogg's Breakfast Mates are being sold in the deli. Breakfast Mates contain a single serving of Fruit Loops, Corn Flakes, Frosted Flakes or Mini-Wheats, along with a separate container of 2% milk, and a plastic bowl and spoon.
Lutz also speculated that baby boomers in supermarkets may now be the target of some manufacturers who have recently entered the supermarket channel. He cited the example of Starbuck's coffee, which recently became available in the Los Angeles market.
"It's somewhat controversial whether Starbuck's will cannibalize its existing business, but they may be looking for a way to reach baby boomers," he said. "They've done a great job targeting Gen X, but older people who don't have the time to enjoy the luxury of [going into a Starbuck's] can now get it in the supermarket," he continued.
The Find/SVP report noted that the 50-plus group consumes more coffee than any other population segment, with 76% imbibing on a daily basis. Furthermore, they are willing to pay more for premium brands.
Frequent-shopper cards, extended store hours, computer home shopping and one-stop shopping are other convenience programs targeted at boomers, Lutz said.
Some stores supplied by Certified offer home delivery. Moreover, Internet shopping services through Peapod are being offered by Safeway in northern California, as well as at Jewel Food Stores in Illinois, Lutz noted.
Baby clubs, pet shops and expanded pharmacy and health and beauty care aisles are other changes in the supermarket for which boomers have been a catalyst, said Rourke.
Rogan of Shaw's also mentioned one-stop shopping features in supermarkets, such as in-store banking, dry cleaning and photo shops, as well as on-line shopping and other technological niceties.
"[This group] more readily accepts things like self-checkouts and paperless checks," said Rogan.
Shaw's had on-line shopping for a year, and was happy with the volume and numbers. However the program's vendor, Shopping Alternatives, Bethesda, Md., dropped Shaw's because too many customers phoned in orders, instead of placing them via the Internet, which the vendor preferred.
The Booming Market
NEW YORK -- Avoiding stereotypes and rethinking old strategies are two ways to appeal to baby boomers, according to "Baby Boomers Turning 50," a report by Find/SVP here.
Baby boomers continue to be youth-oriented, and therefore dislike images of incapable, unhealthy or clueless older people. They respond positively to healthy-looking, happy, mature men and women and intergenerational scenes.
"Boomers are attracted to older people who are positive role models," said George Moschis, director of the Center for Mature Studies and professor of marketing at Georgia State University, Atlanta.
Moreover, boomers are likely to rely on the testimony of their peers when buying products that produce varied results, such as cosmetics.
Moschis noted that a previous study by the center found that about one-third of respondents boycotted certain products because of negative stereotyping.
Marketers also need to remember that baby boomers span a nearly 20-year period. According to the Find/SVP analysis, there are two groups: boomers I (born 1946 to 1954) and boomers II (born 1955 to 1964).
Households headed by those aged 45 to 54 spend more on food than any other age group, according to a Consumer Expenditure Survey cited in the Find/SVP report. The 35-to-44 age bracket follows on the heels of the older boomers.