Older woman classified as Baby Boomer eating a salad
Clean label, healthy ingredients and those with specific benefits all resonate with the Baby Boomer generation.

What a difference a decade makes. Ten years ago the baby boomer generation was the center of attention. Today, millennials are the generation du jour. Yet ignoring the boomer generation may be a mistake, especially since the consumers who fit within the demographic comprise 26% of the U.S. population and have an estimated $2.1 trillion in spending power.

Like the millennial generation, baby boomers cover a wide age range and are experiencing very different life stages. Those at the younger end of the spectrum may becoming empty nesters and starting to consider retirement. At the opposite end are those that may be identified as matures and who are facing a different set of choices, nutritional needs and physical restrictions.

Yet despite the age differences, baby boomers and millennials have similar concerns when it comes to perceptions regarding the quality of food and beverage products.

Products with a clean label positioning in the market, for example, are popular with both generations. During the Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting and food expo, held this past July in Chicago, Elizabeth Sloan, president of Sloan Trends, Inc., Escondido, Calif., said consumers in the 50-plus age group are very interested in the products. She added that such consumers also may have the financial resources to afford products that have a premium positioning.

Foods bearing “free-from” claims also are becoming increasingly important to all Americans who perceive the products as more healthy when compared with foods without such claims, according to research from the market research firm Mintel, Chicago.

Mintel said 84% of consumers buy free-from foods because they desire more natural or less processed foods. Forty-three per cent of consumers agree that free-from foods are healthier than foods without a free-from claim, and 59% believe products with fewer ingredients are healthier.

“Fat-free may seem like a claim whose best days are behind it, but there is strong consumer interest in such free-from foods, especially trans fat-free, no doubt owing to widespread concern about obesity in the U.S. and its related health consequences,” said Billy Roberts, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel. “Health issues appear to be top of mind among U.S. consumers when seeking products bearing a free-from claim, including those related to heart health and allergies.”

Overall, millennials (60%) and Gen X (55%) are more likely than baby boomers (46%) to agree that they worry about potentially harmful ingredients in the food they buy, according to Mintel. However, only 37% of consumers overall agree that products with free-from claims are worth paying more for.

One reason baby boomers may be less concerned about specific ingredients is many may be focusing on addressing age-specific health issues.

As consumers age and develop health conditions, it changes the way they approach food and beverage consumption. The group will be less driven by the latest fad and more by what they need to sustain their health and lifestyles. Healthy foods, such as those high in whole grains, protein, and calcium, or low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, will be of most interest to this generational group, according to The NPD Group, Chicago.

Information Resources Inc., Chicago, indicates retailers and food manufacturers have an opportunity to capture new growth with baby boomers, particularly in the frozen and refrigerated aisles where there are items already well-suited to their lifestyles.

Like all shoppers, boomers want to know the specific benefits they may expect from certain products — and then those products need to deliver, according to I.R.I. Boomers especially are selecting food items that claim natural ingredients, high protein, high fiber and gluten-free. Consumers of this generation are gravitating toward easier-to-prepare healthy frozen and refrigerated options, especially protein. Manufacturers and retailers must have correct product assortments on the shelves, whether brick and mortar or virtual, that will appeal to boomers, I.R.I. said. This means understanding the demand of specific products and in specific channels at a very local level.

Not all baby boomers are the same. I.R.I. data shows 37% use coupons to make their shopping lists and 29% won’t buy their first brand choice if it’s not on sale. I.R.I. did a segmentation of the over the age of 50 group and found six distinct segments. Two of the most important, because they make up almost 50% of boomer dollars, were the conscientious and secure segments. The segments like specific retailers and specific media. They also are the heavier buyers of refrigerated desserts and frozen seafood, according to the market research firm.