Grocers and food brands take older consumers for granted

Discussion
Photo: @WR36 via Twenty20
Jul 27, 2022

In an opinion column for Advertising Age, Pamela Millman, associate director, Integrated Marketing at AARP Media, writes that the over-50 crowd buys 54 percent of all groceries in the U.S. and has become more health-conscious and cooks more frequently since the pandemic began. Nevertheless, older consumers remain “often-overlooked” by food marketers.

She wrote, “Whether preparing meals at home or shopping for groceries at the store or online, 50+ adults are open to new ideas, experiences, products and services, which makes them highly receptive to marketing campaigns that attract their attention.”

Based on data sourced from MRI-Simmons and the U.S. Consumer Expenditure Survey, she listed four reasons the 50-plus cohort is worth targeting:

  • They buy foods that support healthier lifestyles: Eighty-nine percent pay attention to nutrition and 81 percent are looking for new ways to live a healthier life.
  • They’re creative in the kitchen: Eighty-one percent cook frequently every week, 75 percent prefer cooking with fresh foods in keeping with their healthy lifestyles, 77 percent look for easy options and 73 percent plan dinners at home ahead of time.
  • They fill digital shopping carts: Having long been fans of the convenience of online shopping, over-50s are shopping online even more since the pandemic began, including purchasing 39 percent of meal kits online in the past six months.
  • They enjoy indulgences: More than 70 percent sometimes give in to cravings for foods that give them enjoyment or comfort.

Americans are living longer, healthier and more independent lives as they age but have different nutrition needs than younger generations. An International Food Information Council (IFIC) study from 2018 found that heart health and muscle health proved to be the two most concerning topics for those over 50, at 80 and 75 percent respectively. Brain health and having enough energy were equally essential health topics at 74 percent.

People 55-plus controlled 70 percent of all personal wealth in the U.S., according to the Federal Reserve’s “Survey of Consumer Finances” study from 2019. Many benefited over the last two years from skyrocketing home prices.

However, food advertisers have traditionally targeted mothers with children and many market observers see an overall bias toward the young in advertising continuing.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you agree that grocers and food brands are missing opportunities to capture a greater share of purchases made by Americans 50+? If yes, how should they correct the situation?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Given the muzak that plays in the background of grocery stores, it feels more like they’re being targeted."
"EVERY business is missing the mark with the senior consumer."
"I feel like we all need to reread Dr. Ken Dychtwald’s book Age Wave. He was talking about the 50+ consumer being underserved in 1989."

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31 Comments on "Grocers and food brands take older consumers for granted"


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Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

This isn’t a grocery store thing. EVERY retailer and brand takes 50+ consumers for granted.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

Sister, I gave you an “Amen” in my submission.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Thanks, Ian! It’s a sad reality.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

There probably is some bias here, just as there is in other sectors such as fashion. A lot of the innovation in CPG comes from small companies which, by and large, are founded by younger generations — and that’s where much of their focus is on in terms of target market and marketing. The bigger brands tinker at innovation but rarely push the limits, but savvy ones should be looking at the older generation as an opportunity.

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

Yes, absolutely agree. It really is a no-brainer and the reasons listed in the article should be more than enough evidence that many advertisers are missing a significant opportunity to grow the categories in which they compete and generate more loyal shoppers than a younger cohort that seems to be evermore fickle and less loyal than older shoppers. Plus, if done correctly, the older consumer will remain loyal for many years to come. 50 Plus does not mean old by any measure.

Christine Russo
BrainTrust

There could be a bias in the data because older shoppers may be less likely to engage digitally and so their AOR isn’t being considered and their CAC may be too high.

Andrew Blatherwick
BrainTrust

The Grey Dollar is undoubtedly worth targeting for all the reasons stated, they also have more time to shop, study what is on offer, pay attention to the campaigns run and shop in-store more than younger generations. Any retailer that ignores this group is missing a major part of the market and potential revenue.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

It certainly does “feel” as though grocers and brands pay far less attention to the 50+ consumer, but perhaps we should give their marketing teams more credit. The data indicate that us older folks are, in fact, already behaving in exactly the ways food marketers would want us to behave: We eat in very frequently, we make informed choices (that very often involve higher-margin items), we are digitally savvy/embrace omnichannel behaviors, and we embrace impulse buying when cravings strike. If older consumers are already doing many of the things marketing investments are designed to encourage, why exactly, would they want to spend more of their limited budgets on us?

Andrew Blatherwick
BrainTrust

There is a theory that if you catch a customer when young they will stay with you for a lifetime, as long as you look after them. This being the case, grocers and brands may see an investment in younger customers as a better long-term investment. But in the short term, they are missing a huge part of the market who have high spending power.

Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

Why ignore Americans aged 50+? These vivacious consumers have more freedom and disposable income, since they’re often mortgage-, debt- and daycare-free.

Grocers and food brands can listen to the needs of the 50+ crowd, feature them in ad campaigns and use them as influencers. Themes like celebrating with family and friends and healthy, active lifestyles may resonate.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

What always gets me is when people think of “older customers,” they visualize the Greatest Generation. In reality, there are Gen Xers and Baby Boomer consumers in their 50s. This is not a throw away customer.

Brad Halverson
Guest

This, yes. And when they refer to older customers over 50, stating “they are creative, open to new ideas, products, experiences,” isn’t that already assumed? You would think a given many are 50-70 year olds who grew to love the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, The Clash, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Idol, Prince, REM, etc

Michael La Kier
BrainTrust

While most marketers do look to the younger generation for “the next big thing,” the older generation is valuable and should not be ignored. It’s always interesting to look at where the survey came from, AARP — of course — is looking to protect their members.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

The strategy for food and general merchandise has been that if we can acquire customers when they’re just starting careers and families, you can earn a customer for life. The idea of the “lifetime value” of a customer to a retailer is a big deal. As a result, more marketing focused on acquisition strategies for younger customers. As those customers age, they (we) start to lose the attention and interest of the marketers. Is this an example of the retailer “taking for granted” that demographic, or is it that these folks are more difficult to influence? I honestly don’t know.

I also think this is a market issue. I’m guessing that in some parts of the country, you’ll find plenty of advertising and marking campaigns aimed at older adults. I think they do know about our spending power and work hard to try to reach us.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

Good thoughts there Gary. FYI … In media marketing including television, only 10 percent of marketing spend is aimed at the senior demographic. Rumour is that half of that is for Depends. 🙂

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

The other half is life insurance.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

I see no evidence of older Americans being ignored. In fact, given the muzak that plays in the background of grocery stores, it feels more like they’re being targeted (totally mortifying moment — when you find yourself singing along)….

I don’t even think the plant-based phenomenon bypasses older people.

I wonder more if Gen Z is being ignored.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Amen on the music. This bland, middle-of-the-road music could be updated with a little Snoop Dogg from time to time…!

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

Agree on the music, for sure, Paula, but Cathy … Snoop Dogg? Also, as I mentioned in my comments, us “older folk” are already doing most of the behaviors that food marketers want us to do … so is it just luck, or are their marketing tactics working to influence our behaviors?

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

If grocery stores and industry brands are missing opportunities- which they definitely are — to capture their share of purchases made by Americans 50+, they should be focused more on promotions, demonstrations, and planning focused in-store events generated for their age/interest. We no longer live in a world of “stack ’em high and watch ’em buy” world. The customer wants more and our goal is to think of ways to accomplish that strategy.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust
EVERY business is missing the mark with the senior consumer. Since I “are” one, I’m seeing this with almost every shopping experience. Frankly we need to adjust the “50+” idea. 50 years old is barely middle-age. Where retail is really ignorant or dismissive is with those 70+. To define the demographic a little more, those over 70 control almost 30 percent of household wealth — mistreating a third of the money is not a good strategy! As we age, our ability to handle complexity diminishes. You’ll notice that after 65 or so. When there is too much complexity the result is stress, withdrawal and no decision-making (aka no buying something.) Even senior living facilities don’t get this reality which is why your mother tends to sit in her room watching TV. She’s avoiding stress. At 77 (yes RW needs a new picture) I got a new car last week. On a good day I’m pretty good with it. Still writing books, launching new ventures etc. But when I was faced with over 600 pages of… Read more »
Mohamed Amer, PhD
BrainTrust

The silver market does not present the marketing and advertising allure and excitement attached to the younger segments. The entire premise of slicing your customer base according to age undermines the potential to increase market share. Being 50+ today is not the same as it was 50 years ago. The untapped potential is evident and goes unmet. Why? Marketers focus on youth as a symbol and source of social trends and cutting-edge ideas with a longer consumption path. They have been lazy by lumping the silver market into a cohort consumed with chronic illness, worried about their death, or searching for companionship. There is a lot to learn from Japan, where nearly half the population is over 50 and where innovative products and services aimed at that group thrive.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust
Georganne is right. Age is the final discriminatory frontier. When Millennials speak of inclusion older folks are almost always excluded. Check out the news and you’ll see almost daily discussions around upward age limits for elected officials. America is and maybe always has been a youth oriented culture. When the Boommers — now a punch line for Gen Z humor — were young, one other mantras was, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Great idea … if you don’t plan on living past 30 yourself. And that’s the problem. With any luck, people get old — assuming you accept the idea that 50 is old, which I don’t. Age is as much a state of mind and health as it is an indiction that people are passed their sell-by date. So, while “old” now describes Boomers and some Gen Xers, it will soon describe Millennials, Gen Z, the Alphas, and whoever comes after them. And, it’s an age cohort that still has a lot of money, so ignoring/insulting them is a seriously poor retail strategy. Time… Read more »
Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff

Grocery ads definitely skew to young families who are concerned about price. It’s interesting that promotions are targeted at these value shoppers instead of the 50+ shoppers who make up supermarkets margins.

Tara Kirkpatrick
BrainTrust
Agree that grocers are on autopilot with this generation and missing opportunities to increase basket prices by engaging with an audience that is engaged. Grocers seem to focus on becoming a part of the weekly routine, and once that box is checked, they move on. But meaningful profit opportunity exists if they become part of a daily/weekly ritual (just ask beauty and wellness retailers). “81% cook every week, 75% prefer cooking with fresh foods …” A meal kit would be a perfect way to support this group who is clearly intentional about what they eat. Conscientious eaters want to learn more, so kits could be geared toward teaching about in season ingredients and new cooking techniques. It’s interesting that grocers have not launched their own meal kits that would appeal to both older generations that enjoy learning new recipes and cooking styles, as well as the younger customers that favor convenience. As an extension of the meal kits, grocers could create a meal club that promotes community around trying the recipes or taking lessons (virtual… Read more »