Boomers Turn to Nutraceuticals for Fountain of Youth

May 18, 2007
For baby boomers, the fountain of youth could be a beverage, or a bowl of cereal or a cup of yogurt ... but they’re not going gentle into that good night.

In the 1960s, "Hell no, we won't go!" was the chant heard at anti-Vietnam war rallies. That same demographic group has the same spirit of rebelliousness today except now it means aging baby boomers aren't going into retirement without a fight.

With purchasing power of $2.1 trillion and 79 million strong -- the largest age cohort in history -- most baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) believe the foods and beverages they consume can translate to improved health, more energy, disease prevention, a youthful appearance and productive, happier lives. Challenging traditional ideas of aging, boomers are at the leading edge of many important health and wellness trends.

Tropicana fortifies orange juice with antioxidants, fiber or calcium and vitamin D.

They actively seek foods that prevent cancer, diabetes, and heart disease; immunity-boosting foods; and ingredients that maintain eye and joint health, combat stress, depression, sleeplessness and memory loss, particularly the dreaded Alzheimer's disease -- boomers don't like to lose control.

"There is no question baby boomers are redefining the meaning of getting older," says Kevin Havelock, president of Unilever USA (www.unileverusa.com), Englewood Cliffs, N.J., in discussing results from the company's new "Trip Management Study." "With their focus on health and well-being, they want to continue maintaining the vitality they now enjoy. As boomers age, retailers who know how to help them stay vibrant and connected to what they care for most in life will be the winners."

The study, along with data provided by ACNielsen, was unveiled at the Food Marketing Institute's annual conference. Since boomers make 58 percent of all shopping trips, the report examines their trip frequency and spending, channels they prefer, their most common needs, how they define value for the money and how their shopping will change during the next decade.

Redefining healthy

Concerned about your cholesterol and general heart health? Breakfast is a good place to start. Have a bowl of Kellogg's Smart Start Healthy Heart cereal (helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol) for breakfast. Or some old-fashioned oatmeal, which won the FDA's first food-specific health claim ("Soluble fiber from oatmeal, as part of a low saturated fat, low cholesterol diet, may reduce the risk of heart disease"), a fact proudly trumpeted on Quaker Oatmeal packages.

On your toast (whole grain, of course) spread some McNeil Nutritional's Benecol Spreads (natural plant sterol esters that lower cholesterol levels); or Unilever's I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Mediterranean Blend (made with olive oil, an excellent source of omega-3 for heart and vascular health).

Wash it all down with Coca-Cola's recently introduced three Minute Maid Enhanced Juices: Heart Wise (with plant sterols to reduce cholesterol), Active (with 750mg of glucosamine hydrochloride) and Multi-Vitamin (a "good source" of 16 vitamins and minerals). PepsiCo's Tropicana Pure Premium Antioxidant Advantage Orange Juice is an excellent source of antioxidant vitamins C and E and selenium for a healthy immune system; or Tropicana Pure Premium Calcium + Vitamin D has as much calcium as a glass of milk for bone health.

Kellogg hit a home run with Smart Start cereals, which hlep improve both cholesterol and blood pressure.

Or maybe you'd rather have yogurt. Dannon Activia low-fat yogurt contains a natural probiotic culture that helps regulate the digestive system. General Mills' Yoplait Nouriche smoothies contain 20 vitamins and minerals including protein for muscle strength.

Who needs pills?

A long-time observer of boomer behavior, who formerly served as director of nutrition education at Quaker Oats Co., and director of global nutrition at McDonald's Corp., Cathy Kapica says they are absolutely changing their habits to incorporate healthier foods. "For boomers, food serves as fuel, medicine, prevention and restoration," says Kapica, now vice president of global health and wellness in the Chicago office of worldwide advertising agency Ketchum Inc. (www.ketchum.com).

"The meaning of healthy is being redefined. The emphasis will shift from 'bad' nutrients (fat, salt, sugar) to quality calories. Quality calories encompass the positive nutrients that are present (such as good carbs, good fat, antioxidants), as well as the functional benefits provided, such as satiety."

And she adds, "Health redefined also will see a shift in concern away from just the end product to the entire supply chain, including processes involved and their ethical implications. Agricultural practices, minimal processing, treatment of suppliers and employees all will have an impact on the perceived health implications of a product."

What looming health problems are boomers hoping to prevent with food and nutrition? "The traditional diseases of aging -- heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer -- will continue to be relevant to boomers. Increasingly, they recognize the importance of prevention," Kapica continues.

"Boomers also consider themselves to still be young, so factors that contribute to mental and physical acuity will be top of mind. Foods and beverages that promote cognitive function and physical mobility, such as joint health, will gain traction," she says. "From an ingredient perspective, this implies that omega-3s will grow in importance (since emerging evidence suggests that it positively impacts several concerns, including heart health, cognition, joint health), as well as protein and protein components that promise retention of muscle mass and control of blood pressure. And the immune enhancing properties of food components, such as probiotics, will remain important. Food safety concern will manifest itself in increasing interest in organic and kosher."

Boomers make up the largest food spending demographic -- collectively spending $22.8 million per week on groceries, or about $125 weekly per family, according to Packaged Facts. With many boomers still heading households with children, the trend to eat well is being passed on to future generations.

With a preference for fresh, natural, organic ingredients, as well as exotic, sophisticated and bold flavors, boomers spare no expense to incorporate quality foods into their daily family life. "Boomers are a driving force behind the success of functional and fortified foods -- as well as organics -- and they prefer gourmet foods of convenience that meet the demands of their elegant yet hectic lifestyles," says Publisher Don Montuori.

Lifestyle vs. lifestage

To be sure, with a 19-year span, boomers aren't a homogenous group, so developing new products and marketing to them requires know-how. Are they older or younger, working or retired, married or single/divorced/widowed? Do they have children over 18 or under 18 (39.7 do have young kids, according to ACNielsen)? There are vast differences in education, cultural backgrounds and "wordliness."

DanActive's probiotic bacteria help boost the body's immune system.

It's notable boomers are not stuck in their purchasing behavior -- 60 percent of people over 40 research different brands before making a decision, according to a survey by AARP. They pick and choose foods according to what makes sense to them based on their lifestyles and lifestages.

"When targeting boomers, it's important to realize this group spans many years," says Barbara Katz, president of HealthFocus International (www.healthfocus.com), St. Petersburg, Fla., and a frequent contributor to Food Processing. "While they share levels of concern about some conditions like diabetes, key health concerns of younger boomers are often different than those of older boomer.

"Older boomers are significantly more concerned about arthritis and Alzheimer's, while younger boomers, many with kids still at home, are more concerned about stress and tiredness. While labeled in the same generation, they are often in different life stages."

Only 1 percent of boomers say age is a barrier to achieving their goals, and one in five wants to live to be 100. "I want to die at 100 running to catch a plane," Fergus Clydesdale, head of the Dept. of Food Science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, said at a recent Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting.

"When it comes to food, boomers are likely to make conscious choices when it can potentially affect their lifestyle," explains Barbara Burton, senior ethnographic analyst with the Hartman Group (www.hartman-group.com), Bellevue, Wash. "They eat foods for their function -- whether it be nutritional value or emotional well-being -- and they avoid certain ingredients and foods that are believed to undermine their health.

"Since they are no longer able to be carefree with their indulgences and are seeing firsthand the consequences for unhealthy lifestyle choices, they are more likely to choose, high quality and more worthwhile rewards," she continues. "They don't want to eat something they will 'pay' for later unless it is beneficial in some other way."

Don't call them seniors

"Boomers try to stay more active and stronger than their parents did, because they don't want to be defined as seniors," says Cheryl Bell, healthy living advisor/dietitian for superstores Meijer Inc. (www.meijer.com), Grand Rapids, Mich. "Concerned with how nutrition can impact the aging process, they seek functional or what I call efficient foods, look at nutritional value and avoid foods they think will undermine their health. That varies depending on a person's individual health status. Someone who has heart disease might want to integrate soy into the diet because of the isoflavonols and phytochemicals, whereas a woman may avoid soy if she has estrogen positive breast cancer."

Although boomers seek ingredients to improve their health, they also are interested in how foods make them feel -- how food impacts their emotional well-being or mood, according to Bell. "Well-traveled, they also are more concerned with the total eating experience, ethnic cuisines and learning new cooking techniques. When boomers do indulge, the food is typically of higher quality because their palates are more sophisticated. If they buy chocolate, they choose darker varieties because they know of the higher antioxidant health benefits and better taste.

"Consumers drive what food choices are available in grocery stores and restaurants. That's where you're seeing the organic movement," she continues. "According to Kraft Foods, only 2.5 percent of grocery industry sales are organic, but 30 percent of baby boomers buy them.

"They also use supplements for prevention -- calcium to decrease bone loss and fish oil to delay heart disease. Phoods (functional foods) are hotter among baby boomers, but they go in and out in those purchases."

Boomers purchase solutions to their problems. That's why ads for erectile dysfunction and anti-aging products have proliferated. They want to live every moment to its fullest, so quality of life is key. Thus, it should be no surprise they are obsessed with health and wellness.

"What I find most interesting about the first wave of baby boomers turning 60 is the research being born in their wake," says trends forecaster Suzy Badaracco, CEO and president of Tualatin, Ore.-based Culinary Tides (www.culinarytides.com). "The family of research inspired by this generation includes studies into memory, mood, depression, dementia, Alzheimer's, macular degeneration, prostate health and menopause. This research is not completely novel, but now has a voice and is being heard more clearly. With luck, food and pharmaceutical companies will partner in time to also help the Swing and WW II generations who, while not having the fame of the baby boomers, are suffering these issues now."

Beyond what foods to produce, a secondary concern for the food industry as boomers age will be the packaging itself, according to Badaracco. "Ease of opening and larger print labeling for both human food and pet foods will be increasingly more important," she says.

"Boomers pay attention to packaging; they look for unusual designs," says Bell. "Each week, I design quick and easy menus from Meijer ads, and on Saturdays, I plug in a wine like Funky Lama and Little Penguin. If the packaging is not exciting or fun, boomers may pass it up."

It can be the kiss of death to define food and beverage products "for boomers," which makes them feel older. But there are functional products that resonate well with boomers because they sell benefits to present or future health problems.

"It is true that most companies do not market products specifically to baby boomers," says Steve Harris, vice president marketing-North America for Sunsweet Growers Inc. (www.sunsweet.com), Yuba City, Calif. "But with this being the largest growing demographic over the next 10-15 years, it presents a fantastic opportunity for products that meet their needs.

"Unlike the prior generation of people 45-plus, this demographic is looking for products that are convenient, healthy and indulgent." He cites as examples Sunsweet Ones (individually wrapped prunes) and PlumSmart plum (not prune) juice. The latter, in addition to naturally occurring fiber, magnesium and potassium, has added chicory root, a prebiotic, plus "a touch of ginger and chamomile for their soothing effects." "They are examples of nutraceutical foods that fit with the daily habits of eating right, exercising to stay fit and avoiding pharmaceutical solutions to the body's natural aging process ... absolutely perfect for the baby boomer generation."

The most important thing to remember about boomers is that they are rule breakers, according to "Rocking The Ages: The Yankelovich Report on Generational Marketing." Individuality over conformity is a consistent boomer pattern. They have always done it differently than the way it was done before, and as they get older, they will continue to demand products that fit their individuality.

"Boomers are adventurous, media savvy, Internet articulate, well educated and concerned about health and wellness, and they spend more on groceries," says Kapica. "Messages that processors might use that would likely appeal to boomers are minimally processed, natural/organic, quality calories (lots of nutrients, very few calories), and science-based messages. Since Boomers want to avoid all health problems, messages that speak holistically to health (life marketing) as opposed to disease orientation (death marketing) will resonate better. Boomers don't want to just avoid cancer or heart disease; they want to avoid it all."