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Booming Business: Baby Boomer Snacking Trends

As a powerful driver of menu innovation and a focus of foodservice customer service, millennial mania has reached epic proportions. Having surpassed baby boomers as the largest generation,1 millennials have become the Holy Grail for foodservice and restaurant operations eager for a higher check average. The millennial snack attack is more like a fever for flavor and convenience that has spread across the industry.

And yet, according to the NPD Group, baby boomers total nearly 90.4 billion ready-to-eat snacking occasions per year – 20% more than millennials, who rack up 83.1 billion snack eatings.2 Baby boomers remain a huge market at 74.9 million strong (only .5 million less than millennials),and as NPD Group said, “it’s the size of the prize that appeals to snack manufacturers.”2 As the top prize in the ready-to-eat snack market, boomers have the potential to help boost sales significantly, provided foodservice operators don’t lose sight of them in a case of millennial tunnel vision.

Hitting the Sweet Spot: Snack Market Segments

Though the temptation is to simply cast the widest net possible, snack marketing needs to be segmented across target demographics. As Darren Seifer, NPD food and beverage industry analyst and author of the company’s Snacking in America study, pointed out: “Our snacking research shows us that all snackers are not alike. Motivations, snack food choice, and when and where to snack differs among age groups.”2 Snacking is universal, but snacking behaviors vary.  “... The key for food manufacturers,” said Seifer, “is to find the nuances in snacking behaviors in order to differentiate a brand or find a white space opportunity.”2

While millennials hanker for grab-and-go snacks that offer a quick fix for hunger pangs, boomers snack to avoid the hassle of having to prepare a big meal and because they tend to eat alone more often than the more socially minded millennials. The common denominator for both groups is the tendency to choose snacks based on taste and yearning, with fruit, chocolate candy/candy bars and potato chips topping their list of favorite snacks.2 Beyond these faves, though, snack trends for these cohorts diverge, as boomers prefer nuts and yogurt while millennials favor tortilla chips and cookies.2

From B to Z: Bridging the Generation Gap between Boomers and Gen Z

When it comes to the sheer amount of snack foods consumed, Gen Zers ages 2-17 take the cake.2 Each of these snack-crazed kids consumes an above-average amount of 1,500 snack foods per year compared to other age groups. 2 Guided by their parents, who purchase their snacks for them, they gravitate toward healthier snack options (especially in the 2 to 5-year-old range). 2 As they get older, they veer toward sweet and savory snacks. 2

The gulf between boomers and Gen Z may seem wide, but Melissa Abbott, vice president of culinary insights at the Hartman Group, a consumer research firm, points out that together these groups are helping to transform the food industry. Representing about 46% of the population, these segments are shifting consumer food culture from predictable to diverse.3 Gone are the days of the production-driven economy and conveyor-belt food mentality, where meals conformed to routine.

“Now you see consumption driving economy,” said Abbott. “It’s much more fun and experiential… What this means is our modern eating culture is marked by fragmentation and a complete upending of tradition. And who is doing the planning, shopping, cooking? It’s very much decentralized. Mom is no longer the gatekeeper.”3

Getting a clean read on clean label demographics

While the clean label phenomenon is often attributed to the millennial insistence on healthy snacks and traceable food sources, boomers have been at the forefront of the fresh, less processed food movement. Because they view healthy food as vital to their longevity, boomers have been a driving force and an originating influence in the additive-free, organic food craze.     

As a much more ethnically diverse cohort, Gen Z is taking cuisine beyond the American fare favored by boomers and branching out to more innovative and international cuisines. While Gen Z tends to place more emphasis on flavor than nutrional value, about two-thirds of Gen Z consumers express a preference for food and beverages that only contain recognizable ingredients.3

Baby boomers, meanwhile, tend to have more time and money to buy clean label products – not to mention the greatest interest. Elizabeth Sloan, Ph.D., president of Sloan Trends, Inc., identified consumers over 50 as the age group with the highest level of interest in clean label foods.4

How have you been capitalizing on the snack-hungry boomer market? Do you think it’s wiser for foodservice operators to focus on millennials? A healthy debate never gets old, so feel free to post your thoughts below.

1 Fry, Richard, “Millennials overtake Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation,” Pew Research Center, Apr. 15, 2016, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/04/25/millennials-overtake-baby-boomers/
2 NPD, “Millennials Have Nothing on Boomers When It Comes to Snacking” March 8, 2016,
https://www.npd.com/wps/portal/npd/us/news/press-releases/2016/millennials-have-nothing-on-boomers-when-it-comes-to-snacking/
3 Watrous, Monica, “How boomers and Gen Z are changing food,” Food Business News, June 30, 2016,
http://www.foodbusinessnews.net/articles/news_home/Consumer_Trends/2016/06/How_boomers_and_Gen_Z_are_chan.aspx?ID=%7BCE7E5EBD-336B-49A7-8FE4-7B3D4641B1E1%7D&cck=1
4 Gelski, Jeff, “A 'boomer' market for clean label,” Food Business News, July 16, 2015,
http://www.foodbusinessnews.net/articles/news_home/Consumer_Trends/2015/07/A_boomer_market_for_clean_labe.aspx?ID={8775DA21-7555-4F67-842C-BA79A1196C59}

Topics: Millennials, Cookies/Bars/Snacks, Cakes/Cupcakes, Snack, Gen Z, Baby Boomers, Better-for-You, Chocolate, Demographic

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