Voices: Toops' Scoops

Empty Nesters Make Growing Market Niche

Empty Nesters make a growing and fertile market niche. They love to cook and shop for food.

By Diane Toops, News and Trends Editor

Born between 1946 and 1964, U.S. Baby Boomers are 78 million strong, have a profound impact on social, political and economic issues and are reinterpreting how people age. From the youth culture they created in the 1960s and 1970s to the dual-income households of the 1980s and 1990s, this generation is entering yet another phase, one that will greatly impact new product and packaging development.

Older Boomers are quickly becoming Empty Nesters. For them, the power of two is replacing the focus on family meals. According to American Demographics, every minute from now until 2014, seven Baby Boomers will turn 50. It’s no wonder the Census Bureau projects married couples with children will account for only 20 percent of U.S. households by 2010.

Unlike their parents, Baby Boomers are ready to reclaim their independence. A national Boomer survey by Del Webb, the nation’s leading builder of active adult communities, found 58 percent said they are emotionally prepared for their children to leave home. Most expect their disposable income to increase by about $10,000 annually after the kids leave, expect their relationship with their spouse or significant other to improve and look forward to getting back to what they were accused of being – the “me” generation.

A recent report from the Food Marketing Institute, Washington, found Boomers tend to be brand loyal and have extremely high standards for quality products, image and packaging. They are becoming more adventuresome in their choices of flavorful, fresh, ethnic foods and exotic specialized ingredients. Less likely to purchase food on health claim, they focus rather on good taste.

Minneapolis-based Pillsbury launched a nationwide marketing campaign designed to help Empty Nesters adjust to cooking, buying and organizing meals for a smaller household. “Cooking for Two” is an e-newsletter and a channel on the Pillsbury web site (www.pillsbury.com) with some great recipe ideas.

According to ongoing General Mills' consumer research, nearly nine out of 10 Baby Boomers (89 percent) say they enjoy cooking at least occasionally during their leisure time and are not averse to using prepared foods to save time. In fact, some 74 percent use at last some prepared items when making a meal.

“As they enter this new stage of life, Empty Nesters are excited about products and ideas to help them cook for two,” says General Mills home economist Lynn Vettel. “Now that the kids have left home and they don’t have to please picky eaters, Empty Nesters are relishing the chance to experiment with new ingredients and flavors. But they are also interested in ways to make it easier to cook for two.”

One Empty nester sums it up perfectly: “Now that the kids are gone, I don’t need to make a huge meal every night. I like to cook, but I don’t want to fuss.”

With an empty nest comes the freedom to explore new tastes, and 90 percent say they love to cook with a spirit of adventure in the kitchen. And, as an Empty Nester myself, I think it’s great to have a little help from the Pillsbury Doughboy.

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