Supermarket Wellness Watch: A revealing look at older consumers, food and health

The conventional wisdom is that younger generations are leading the transformation of how Americans eat. 
Healthier foods. Cleaner ingredients. Organic. Sustainability. Traceability. 
But if Millennials and Gen Y are the revolutionaries, they aren’t necessarily feeling good about it. 
It turns out older consumers, from 50 to 80 years old, are the ones most confident about their health choices and sources of nutrition information, at a time of widespread confusion driven by conflicting stories in the media. This finding has important implications not just for supermarkets, but also for a wide range of retail channels.
The insight comes from the latest annual version of the Food and Health Survey by International Food Information Council Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is to communicate science-based information on health, food safety and nutrition. The organization’s 2017 research includes results of its companion national survey of older consumers, ages 50 and over, the fastest growing U.S. demographic, conducted in partnership with AARP Foundation. The deeper dive into Boomers and older consumers is valuable at a time when most research seems to be analyzing Generations Y and Z. 
Among the IFIC Foundation’s findings: 
  • In the face of conflicting information about what to eat, only 47 percent of consumers ages 50 to 80 years old say the confusion leads to doubts about their choices, compared to 61 percent of those ages 18 to 49.
  • Consumers ages 50 to 80 are more likely than younger ones to follow healthy eating behaviors, ranging from cutting back on full-fat dairy to eating more foods with whole grains.
  • Older consumers are more likely than younger ones to connect specific foods with health benefits they are pursuing. 
  • The older set is also more confident about the safety of the food supply than younger consumers. 
In an interview with DSN, Alexandra Lewin-Zwerdling, IFIC’s vice president of Research and Partnerships, observed that the confidence of older consumers may result from how they source information. 
 “They rely on fewer sources of information, and more credible sources, so they get less conflicting information,” she explained.
Gaining a better understanding of the needs of older consumers can illuminate new strategies for retailers, she added. 
“There’s always been a focus on younger consumers, so the more we can understand that older consumers are a quickly growing demographic with health conditions that can be addressed through diet, that will enable retailers to pay greater attention.” 
The findings are useful not just for the food retail channel, but also for channels including drug. 
“Retailers can explore what foods older adults are purchasing at drug stores, and how pharmacists can connect the food and medicine sides,” she said.
I suggest retailers look at IFIC’s research to better understand what drives buying patterns of these older shoppers, who incidentally have a great deal of buying power. This need not be rocket science. Older Americans are already seeing the link between food and health benefits, so it should be relatively straightforward to market to them along these lines. Hopefully this research will help spark a new look at generations that aren’t getting the attention they deserve.

David Orgel is an award-winning business journalist, industry expert and speaker who was the longtime chief editor and content leader of Supermarket News. He is currently the principal of David Orgel Consulting, delivering strategic content and counsel to the food, retail and CPG industries. To read last month’s blog post, click here
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