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“There’s an image that this group didn’t know which end of a pan to pick up. That’s not true. They shop a lot, they cook as much as their parents did and they entertain with food. They’re the foodies.”
— Jon Miller, professor, University of Michigan
Generation X Lost No More
Don’t you forget about me…
Simple Minds’ 1985 coming-of-age anthem announced the arrival of a still-young Generation X just then entering adulthood. Fast forward to today, and not much has changed. This group of 51 million is singing the same song as middle-aged consumers with jobs and families.
The current message, however, is directed at marketers who seem more obsessed with the generations that bookend them: Baby Boomers and Millennials.
“They have sometimes been called the ‘sandwich generation’ and often they feel squeezed between these two larger and flashier generations,” wrote Douglas Keene, a forensic psychologist in a profile of the peer group. “Generation X is a smaller population than either the Boomers before them or the Millennials that followed.”
Yet, they have become a force to be reckoned with. Born between 1965 and 1980, Gen Xers are today the middle-aged, parents-with-kids, working full-time backbone of American society. In the supermarket, they are the ones largely responsible for driving early awareness and acceptance of organic foods and related wellness categories.
“They have a much better sense of food values, nutrition and its contribution to their health,” noted Jon Miller, a University of Michigan professor at the school’s Institute for Social Research. “There’s more sensitivity to the health side of food, not just taste and price.”
Gen Xers were once characterized as disengaged slackers, or latchkey kids growing up in divorced households. Sociologists are now reassessing their earlier opinions. Generation X has matured into an independent group that is hard-working, involved in family and community, and has kept up with the breathtaking pace of change in technology.
“There’s an image that this group didn’t know which end of a pan to pick up. That’s not true. They shop a lot, they cook as much as their parents did and they entertain with food,” said Miller, who has written extensively about Generation X in a series of studies. “They’re the foodies.”
The fact that there aren’t as many Gen Xers as Boomers or Millennials should be irrelevant to food marketers, say experts, because this is a group of consumers in its prime. Members have an aggregate income that exceeds $1.1 trillion, and they have a substantial influence on a wide variety of sectors, according to Packaged Facts.
One area of Gen X life in particular has benefited food retailers: the expansion of the shopping base to include more men. According to Miller’s studies, men and women were equally likely to watch food shows on television and, while married women cooked the most — preparing about 12 meals a week, on average — both married and single men prepared about eight meals a week.
“What we’ve seen over the past 35 years is a major shift — gradual, but quite clear — in gender roles,” said Miller. “Women have become partners in the workforce, and men have become partners at home.”