Much has been written lately about the effect of the Millennial generation on the food industry, but their elders still bring a lot to the table.
The Baby Boom generation has been in the marketing spotlight virtually their entire lives. Born between the years 1946 and 1964, the generation numbers 74.9 million (including new immigrant arrivals who have kept the population relatively stable, even as it ages). Though they’ve recently been surpassed by the 75.4 million-strong Millennial cohort in terms of sheer numbers, Baby Boomers—especially those without children—have more disposable income than any other group, per the NPD Group, and are the largest users of full-service restaurants.
Generation X, the demographic middle child that has tended to get less attention from the marketing community throughout the years (there is not even agreement on the defining years in which they were born), is nonetheless an important if underappreciated influencer. Born during the 1960s and 1970s, Xers are already responsible for around 25% of US spending. With an estimated population of about 62 million, they are now going through their peak consumption years, with different spending priorities than the Boomers that came before.
While all consumers have certain expectations for food and service, there are certain things that operators can do to appeal to various demographics.
Attracting the Baby Boom generation:
- Provide a quiet, well-lit place – Older diners prefer an atmosphere that’s conducive to talking, and lighting that makes it easy to see their companions, as well as the menu. And speaking of the menu, make sure the type is legible.
- Offer some traditional foods – While Baby Boomers are adventurous and sophisticated, they are also less ethnically diverse than Gen X and especially Millennial diners. Per Technomic’s 2016 Generational Trend Report, “While there is ample focus on innovation nowadays to appeal to younger generations, it’s important to menu traditional dishes as they can help appeal to Boomers who still have the most spending power.”
- Make sure there are healthful options and smaller portions on offer – The generation that personified youth in its heyday wants to stay healthy and active if possible, and embraces the role of diet and nutrition in that effort.
- Focus on service and a welcoming atmosphere – More than any other generation, Boomers want to feel like valued customers when they dine out, per the NPD Group. Whether in full service or fast-casual restaurants, hospitality and personal acknowledgment—rather than loyalty programs or other overt marketing efforts—are more important to this group than they are to Millennials.
- Emphasize freshness – Per the Hartman Group, Boomers were at the leading edge of many contemporary food and beverage trends, not the least of which is the desire—and demand—for fresh, less processed foods and beverages. Baby Boomers have also forged and shaped the growth of the organic market, underscoring the fact that they are a unique aging generation when it comes to their approach to food.
- Don’t overlook social media outreach – According to MarketingProfs.com, 83% of Baby Boomers use the internet, which has surpassed television, newspapers, and other forms of communication for the purpose of gathering information. Mobile usage is still developing for this group: 29% use a smartphone regularly (compared with 48% of the general population), and 19% regularly use a tablet (compared with 25% of the general population).
For more information on Baby Boomers, read this article on the National Restaurant Association website.
Attracting Generation X:
- Promote upscale menu items – With household incomes that match those of Boomers (in part because more of them are still employed), Generation X diners are less concerned with finances when they dine out. They’re also more willing to pay for quality, and more likely to frequent a wide variety of different restaurants. Technomic suggests that Gen Xers are typically more susceptible to marketing messages that position meals as a treat and are willing to pay for them.
- Offer choices that reflect global and casual fare – Generation X is more ethnically diverse; 40% of this group is non-white, compared with just 28% of Baby Boomers. Members of this cohort are more likely to enjoy foods like pizza, Mexican, burgers, and Mediterranean cuisine. Gen Xers also place value on better-for-you choices (particularly in limited-service restaurants), as well as menu variety and customization at full-service venues. They are drawn to items billed as authentic, homemade, and premium.
- Provide a fun, upbeat atmosphere – Sandwiched between more traditional Baby Boomer consumers and experience-seeking Millennials, many Gen Xers enjoy a convivial atmosphere that’s conducive to group occasions. Larger tables, shareable menu items, and easy payment options for groups also lend themselves to this strategy.
- Market convenience options – According to a recent report by Technomic, Gen Xers are more likely than other cohorts to order food for takeout, with busy two-income households most likely to be frequent. They are also more likely than members of other generations to be concerned with convenient locations, with amenities such as online ordering, dedicated parking, and curbside delivery.
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