The baby boomer generation is retiring, developing health ailments and becoming empty nesters, all of which is changing how they (should) eat and drink. While a slower metabolism and lower energy requirements might mean eating less, lower absorption and utilization of nutrients might actually mean nutrient requirements (particularly as a function of body mass) may increase.
Baby boomers have been a goldmine for product developers over the past decades, and they could continue to be if processors focus as many marketing efforts on them as they do millennials and others under the age of 35.
As a group, the boomer generation is still large and outsized compared with other generations. They're a lively segment, and their life expectancy is higher today than it was for earlier generations. Many pay a lot of attention to foods high in nutrients and low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.
But the food industry generally has shied away from marketing products that single out or target aging consumers. "Rather, they focus on developing products [that meet the needs] common among older and younger generations, such as protein-fortified foods, because these align with promoting a healthy, active lifestyle and managing hunger and thus weight," observes Jean Heggie, strategic marketing lead at DuPont Nutrition & Health, St. Louis. The company's various soy protein ingredients promote lean muscle mass, heart health and address other aging issues.
While some boomers admit they're unhealthy, many try to fend off aging and understand that a healthy diet extends the active years, says Patrick Luchsinger, marketing manager-nutrition, for Ingredion Inc., Westchester, Ill., which makes Vitessence pulse protein ingredients. "They are more accepting of fortification and functional foods and look for products providing them to help stay healthier and active."
Protein is generally something boomers and older adults can eat less of, especially in terms of meat, notes Tom Katen, technical service manager–meats, at Cargill Texturizing Solutions, Minneapolis. "As a result, they need more protein in concentrated form. At the same time, as the new Dietary Guidelines encourage, they need to limit saturated fat intake. Textured soy flour is one way for meat processors to address these nutritional challenges."
Adds Luchsinger, "They want smaller package and serving sizes. They no longer have the family at home to feed, so don’t want food to spoil. Many have reached the empty-nest phase. That's why new food products in yogurt, bars, smoothies and snacks are in single serving sizes with functional claims that appeal to this generation."
The older set also prefers a value price, according to Chicago's IRI, as well as easy-to-read nutrition labeling and products for special dietary needs.
Boomers spend more of their grocery budget on health and wellness products than other generations, Luchsinger continues. "They generally plan to add more fiber, pre- and probiotics, protein, calcium, whole grains and vitamins to their diet and reduce consumption of red meat. They prefer products reducing 'unhealthy' items, such as those making low carb, trans fat-free, sugar-free and non-GMO [genetically modified organism] claims. There is an abundance of ingredients being used in new products marketed to this group, such as prebiotic fibers like short-chain fructooligosaccharides (scFOS) for digestive health, resistant starches for healthy blood glucose management from vegetable sources."
Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md., projects there will be a vibrant market for functional foods among boomers. "Marketers need to be cautious about assuming that the only foodies who count are millennials," points out research director David Sprinkle. According to the market research firm's report on Foodies in the U.S., boomers are just as likely as millennials to "usually only snack on" healthy foods and seek organic or natural foods when shopping for food. They mainly search for the freshest ingredients.
"Consumers don't want another pill to take," echoes Luchsinger. "They want nutrients and functionality of ingredients in a tasty and convenient food application that fits their lifestyle."
Functional foods for health optimization
Taking a close look at the hottest functional food ingredients headed into 2016, Packaged Facts reports plant proteins, microalgae, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D and magnesium will be high in demand as boomers want products offering positive nutrition to help them optimize health and avoid chronic and potentially life-threatening illnesses. And nearly a third of consumers indicate functional foods could replace some medicine in the context of their overall health approach.