Boomers versus millennials: pay attention to the food generation gap

Editor’s Note: Joseph Clayton is CEO of the International Food Information Council and the IFIC Foundation. He previously served as interim president of the American Frozen Food Institute, executive vice president of Golin International, and CEO of Widmeyer Communications. He also once worked on the legislative staff of former Illinois Senator Alan Dixon (D-IL).

With the public and media fixated on millennials, baby boomers would be forgiven if they felt the need to sing Stephen Sondheim’s defiant anthem “I’m Still Here.”

Baby boomers – those between the ages of 52 and 70 – are much more than here. They continue to exert a disproportionate influence on the population as a whole.

According to Nielsen and BoomAgers, baby boomers account for 49% of all consumer packaged goods spending — $230 billion — and dominate in nearly every CPG category. By 2017, half of Americans will be 50 or older, but are expected to account for 70% of total disposable income.

Although Baby Boomers are much older than their Gen Y counterparts (18 to 34), the population sizes of both generations are almost equalat around 75 million each.

After an economic slump in 2009, the $5 trillion food distribution and service sector resumed its upward trajectory. Because the wallets of baby boomers have fueled this growth, their attitudes toward food and nutrition are key to understanding not only their shopping behaviors, but also their health outcomes.

the Food and Health Survey 2016 conducted by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation reveals what makes baby boomers unique and the imperative to reach and influence them. The IFIC Foundation conducted a similar analysis attitudes and behaviors of millennials regarding food and nutrition in the past year.

What do baby boomers consider to be healthy foods and eating habits?

When it comes to healthy eating styles, baby boomers view nutrition more in terms of the amount and type of food they eat.

Joseph Clayton


Baby boomers are more likely than the general population (32% vs. 22%) to define a healthy eating style by moderation/portion size and portions. They are also more likely than Millennials (30% vs. 17%) to define a healthy eating style as including certain foods that are personally defined as healthy.

Older and younger generations also have different opinions about the safety of individual food components. For example, baby boomers are more likely than millennials to rate several things as healthy, including vitamin C (88% vs. 77%), whole grains (80% vs. 70%), protein vegetable (75% against 63%) and omega. -3 fatty acids (71% versus 59%).

Conversely, baby boomers are less likely than millennials and the general population to view animal protein as healthy. Only 36% of baby boomers would say this, compared to 45% of millennials and the general population.

What health benefits are they looking for?

the Food and Health Survey 2016 highlights the differences in the types of foods that generations buy because of their perceived health benefits.

Nearly half of baby boomers, 49%, are more interested than millennials in foods associated with health benefits beyond basic nutrition, also known as “functional foods,” such as those containing fiber , carotenoids, probiotics or fortified vitamins.

Baby boomers are more likely than millennials and the general population to want foods associated with healthy aging and bone health. Baby boomers are also more likely than millennials to learn about foods associated with weight management, cardiovascular health, and digestive health.

They are less likely than millennials to be interested in the mental health, muscle health and immunity benefits associated with food.

Who do they trust?

The young baby boomers of the 60s followed the mantra of “don’t trust anyone over 30”. Today, their trusted sources of food information continue to differ from those of other generations.

Baby boomers are more likely than millennials to trust dietitians or nutritionists (75% vs. 65%) and healthcare professionals (73% vs. 58%). The general population is less likely to trust dietitians (67%) and personal health professionals (61%).

Baby boomers are less likely than millennials to trust fitness professionals (16% vs. 27%), farmers (11% vs. 21%) and bloggers (8% vs. 18%). Among the general population, 26% trust fitness professionals, 9% trust farmers, and 15% trust bloggers.

Find common ground

Communication approaches to different age groups need not be a zero-sum game. There are several commonalities between baby boomers and millennials. They are heavy consumers of online media, eager to embrace new technologies, place a high priority on taste and price when making food purchasing decisions, and they rely on friends and family for help shape their opinions about food.

Good communication strategies will seek common ground while being sensitive to more distinct consumer groups.

As the population ages, the entire food system – from product manufacturers, distributors and retailers to health professionals, communicators and policy makers – would do well to heed the new realities of what some call the “economy of longevity.”

Those that cater primarily or exclusively to young people do so at their own risk. Far from being left behind, baby boomers are still leading the farm.