Whether in a small room or in an entire demographic, the biggest, loudest groups tend to command the most attention. Translated into the buying public, the current millennial generation and, preceding them, the baby boomer generation, have been a focus of intense speculation and targeted marking for the better half of the past 70 years.
Although millennials (born roughly between 1981 and 1997) and boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) have the lion’s share of attention for their purchase and consumption habits, other age groups patronize foodservice-at-retail operations and have an impact on sales and profitability.
Take the so-called silent generation. That group, born after the Greatest Generation and before the boomers, is now in its senior years. As one might expect for a group born, raised in or affected significantly by the Great Depression and Second World War, this generation focuses on value and tend to be heavy coupon users, according to the most recent The Why? Behind the Buy report from Acosta. Value-seeking doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of spending, however: According to Acosta’s research, these silent generation shoppers say they buy an average of $287 a month on groceries.
Another often-overlooked generation is Gen X, born after 1964 and before 1981. While boomers and millennials get a lot of buzz, the Acosta study found that Gen X shoppers say they spend the most each per month on groceries compared to other age groups. This is also an adventurous group: 60% say they often check out new items in a grocery store.
Gen X is a discerning, tech-savvy generation. Research from Technomic’s 2018 Generational Consumer Trend Report finds that nearly half (48%) of Gen X shoppers look up restaurant menus online before ordering, compared to 32% of baby boomers. Their tastes and shopping habits may be shifting in other ways, too: As the Technomic report says, Gen Xers are increasingly becoming empty nesters.
Born after 1997, the younger Gen Z demographic is starting to get some attention by retailers and brands but not as much as the Gen Y/millennial group ahead of them.
Foodservice-at-retail operators looking at the future of their business can note that Gen Z members have always been connected to the internet and that almost half (42%) say they use digital grocery lists.
In all, there are currently five generations of consumers who buy groceries, meals, snacks and beverages on a daily basis and from grocery stores that likely have some kind of foodservice element. Anne Mills, senior manager of consumer insights for Technomic, underscores some key similarities and differences. "It's interesting to see where generations align and where there are stark differences," Mills says.
"Across all ages, consumers are more willing to pay a higher price for items described as fresh, scratch-made and real,” she says. “In terms of differences, millennials are choosier parents than other generations have been and want all-natural, organic foods for themselves as well as their kids. In older generations such as baby boomers, on the other hand, we are seeing a very slight decline in foodservice visits, but interest in prepared foods, opening up opportunities for grocery and convenience stores.”
Ultimately, recognizing all of those generations and learning more about their habits and preferences can lift all departments.