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According to a new study from the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), the baby boomer generation is the most influential consumer segment for food products today and should be the most widely targeted by grocery retailers.

The white paper, The Generations in the Marketplace: A Closer Look at the Baby Boomer Market Basket, was derived from data in the 2002 edition of FMI’s annual Trends in the United States: Consumer Attitudes & the Supermarket.

The Generations in the Marketplace explores the shopping habits of American consumers between the ages of 38 and 56 — the most lucrative and changing demographic group to date. With approximately 50 percent of the total spending power in the United States — 40 percent of retail food sales — boomers spend an average of $84 a week at their primary grocery store, whereas other consumers spend only $77 per week.

“Boomers are at the height of their income potential and are carefree in their shopping habits,” said Janice Jones, director of research at FMI. “This report shows that image and packaging are very important to this generation and should be emphasized in marketing messages. Food retailers should continue to work to understand and identify boomer needs.”

Baby boomers are far more diverse than previous generations, particularly in terms of lifestyle, health, family size and income. According to Trends, nearly a quarter of boomers are dieting — 60 percent diet to lose weight and 45 percent do so because of a medical condition. Boomers are more active and health-conscious than their parents and place emphasis on products that make them “look and feel good.” While many baby boomers may decrease the size of their shopping baskets as they retire or as their generation X/Y children leave the home, they may purchase more high-end, gourmet and ethnic foods.

Boomers also look for a variety of features in their ideal primary grocery store. On the top of the list for 89 percent of baby boomer shoppers is the availability of high-quality fruits and vegetables. Emphasis is also placed on store cleanliness, low prices, use before/sell by dates marked on products, and high-quality meats. Below this top tier of valued features, 60 to 79 percent of boomers value convenience, courtesy of employees, accurate price markings and money-saving specials. These demands contrast with those of generations X/Y — often referred to as “Time Challenged Consumers” — who place greater importance on fast checkout, fresh-food deli and special requests or needs.

“The boomer market is a rapidly changing consumer segment that should be closely watched by food retailers,” notes Jones. “This generation will continue to favor high-quality and life-enhancing products at supermarkets. This report shows that retailers should strengthen their awareness of the needs of the boomer demographic to be successful in today’s economy.”

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KC's View:
The thing is, how many food retailers do you think could answer the following question: “What percentage of your customer base is made up of baby boomers?”

How about this one: “What is the difference in the buying habits of your older baby boomers and your younger baby boomers?”

And this one: “What three things are you doing in your store right now to appeal to the interests and habits of baby boomers?”