Natural Foods Merchandiser

How to market to boomers

By now, most people know that the baby boomer generation refers to those people born between 1946 and 1964. Fewer know that in 2010, all 76 million boomers will range in age from 46 to 64. Or that they represent 26 percent of the population and spend $2.3 trillion yearly on goods and services, making them the nation’s dominant consumer group by far.

But generations are more than market segments defined by birth years. As each generation comes of age, its members live through major societal events, forming collective mentalities. Shared formative experiences influence the generation’s culture, sociology and consumer psychology throughout life.

Boomers’ favorable attitudes toward natural foods emerged from the idealism they embraced in the 1960s and ’70s. They tapped into an anti-artificial food zeitgeist, pushing retailers toward healthy, natural, organic, eco-friendly and socially responsible foods and supplements. Boomer entrepreneurs founded influential companies such as White Wave, Celestial Seasonings and Whole Foods.

As they age beyond 50 (and more than 55 million boomers already have), what common benefit do they seek from natural foods and supplements? The answer isn’t standard parlance: compression of morbidity.

New scientific studies validate that disabilities and illnesses related to aging can be compressed into a shorter period when we make exacting lifestyle decisions—including nutritional choices. Many boomers endeavor to create disease-free, robust lives into their 70s, 80s, 90s and beyond. Many aspire to live a long healthy life followed by a brief final illness.

Boomers embrace natural foods and supplements that have substantive healthy aging claims and disease-mitigation benefits. Some choose natural foods and supplements to help alleviate existing disease conditions or age-related illnesses—often with the same underlying motivation: to restore health and compress morbidity.

Other motivations emanate from boomers’ youthful principles. They buy natural products to contribute to a healthier environment, to bestow a legacy for the future, to support like-minded entrepreneurs, to seek community by consuming local products, to take proactive control of their health and to feel better about foods they consume.

These insights engender emerging retailing opportunities. Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Keep a focus on education, a primary boomer motivator, which might include lectures at your store by experts in healthy aging and natural medicine.
  • Provide printed and video information (compliant with the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act) from manufacturers to help boomer consumers learn how each nutriceutical or food may mitigate conditions associated with aging.
  • Display foods and supplements together so consumers can purchase them simultaneously—for example, vitamin C supplements next to organic citrus fruits. This more holistic merchandising reinforces how foods include nutriceuticals, and how supplements can complement natural foods.
  • Create a context for boomers to gather, associate and develop affinity groups; retailers can do this through store events and online. Boomers are inherently communal.
  • Embed generosity into the shopping experience by donating to nonprofits; consider organizations fighting diseases related to aging, such as Alzheimer’s.

Research and market observations point toward emerging motivations driving boomers today. Dominant collective mentalities include affinity for natural and organic products, ecological living, holistic health, social accountability and integrative medicine.

Brent Green, author of Marketing to Leading-Edge Baby Boomers (Writer’s Advantage, 2003), is a speaker and consultant focusing on generational marketing.

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