Health, vitality appealing to baby boomers

by Allison Gibeson
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With 77 million people representing the generation with the largest amount of disposable income, Lynn Dornblaser, new products expert with Mintel International, Chicago, said it is crucial for food and beverage manufacturers to appeal to baby boomers and Lucinda Wisniewski, group vice-president of marketing and client solutions at The National Food Lab, Livermore, Calif., agreed.

“They are a consumer group used to spending money on themselves, they have money to spend on themselves by in large, and they are going through some significant life changes,” Ms. Dornblaser said. “That seems like a perfect opportunity for products that would be specifically for them or would answer their very specific needs. The surprising thing is there is so little out there ... it feels there is a lot of opportunity that is missed.”

Ms. Dornblaser said it may be tricky appealing to boomers because it’s easy to offend the target market or not connect with them properly. Because there is a wide age range of boomers, she said oftentimes companies may isolate part of the baby boomer market by just appealing to older boomers with health problems or just reaching out to younger, healthier boomers.

She said often it is more effective to focus on overall health and vitality, with the message it’s not about being young or old but rather about living optimally.

“A lot of our clients, the big food and beverage companies, don’t explicitly state these (products) are for baby boomers, but when you look at who they are targeting for consumer work, that’s exactly who they are targeting,” Ms. Wisniewski said. “It’s almost unstated — everybody knows if we can serve the baby boomers, then we are serving the population at large because they are leading the trend in health and wellness.”

Ms. Dornblaser said the Smartfood products from Frito-Lay, a division of Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo, Inc., are a good example of a product line appealing to boomers as it is positioned as fun and full of nutrition. She also said Ensure products are marketed wisely to boomers, noting their commercials often have a boomer saying they buy the product for their aging parent but they also consume it themselves when they need a quick and nutritious meal. In addition, she cited Kellogg’s All-Bran Cereal in Canada as being well marketed to boomers as it is available in a multi-pack box of single-serve packets.

An effective way to connect with baby boomers may be through packaging featuring a universal design, Ms. Dornblaser said. She said any company that is able to modify packaging in a way that makes it easier for consumers who are beginning to have compromised abilities will capture that market and keep it.

“There is a real opportunity for products that are packaged in a way that is suitable for aging consumers — easier to open, easier to read, easier functioning,” Ms. Dornblaser said.

While many condition-specific products promoting heart health and digestive health appeal to baby boomers, Ms. Wisniewski said there is hesitation from manufacturers to expand into more condition-specific areas such as joint health, eye health and immunity because of the regulatory environment.

“(Manufacturers) tend to go the safer route of imparting an overall healthy halo onto foods, and reducing sodium is something that is easy to understand, easy to communicate, the consumers get it … you are treading in some safer waters if you do the lower sodium approach or a clean label approach in general,” Ms. Wisniewski said.

But Ms. Wisniewski said in the future she believes there will be more condition-specific products because there is a lot of knowledge of what ingredients enhance or support different kinds of health needs. With those connections and claims being researched and supported, the Food and Drug Administration is bound to give permission to industry to make more claims in the future. With this, she said larger companies are going to need to invest in education so consumers fully understand the healthful benefits of products.

Ms. Dornblaser said for right now heart-health will drive condition-specific products with digestive health being important as well but fading a bit after recent regulatory issues.

Going forward, Ms. Wisniewski said she sees a move toward balance in products with an emphasis on moderation as opposed to cutting ingredients completely. Consumers may realize low-carb, high-protein or low fat isn’t necessarily the way to go, she said.

“When it comes to products that are for boomers, there is potential out there in the market, we just don’t see very much of it yet,” Ms. Dornblaser said. “I think (manufacturers) need to take a closer look at the spending power that age group has.”

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