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Chowing down with the millennials and the baby boomers

Millennials and baby boomers are the most powerful consumer groups in Canada.

Two demographic groups dominate eating today. Millennials (born between 1976 and 1995) and baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1966) represent 23% and 26% of the population, respectively.

Together that’s half the country! To sell more food and beverages, you need to understand what makes boomers and echo-boomer millennials tick.

Boomers and millennials were shaped by the eras in which they grew up. Many boomers likely view the assassination of President Kennedy and the moon landing as formative events. The rise of the Internet and 9/11 undoubtedly had an indelible impact on millennials.

READ: A quiet generation of grocery shoppers that's still spending

Coming-of-age events, however, aren’t the only differences between the two groups. Their eating patterns are also quite dissimilar. Let’s have a look.

Looking for iMeals: Millennials eat fewer meals than any other generation. They also skip meals more often. Millennials 25 to 34 with no children also tend to eat meals away from home a lot and often rely on restaurants. As you can imagine, convenience drives their eating habits.

Food portability is key for millennials. Around 15% of meals eaten by this group are carried from home. That’s double the rate of all Canadian adults. When millennials do eat at home, they opt for simple meal solutions that require fewer dishes per meal (think one bowl, not five courses).

Don’t mistake millennials’ love of convenience for not caring about health. Millennials want to eat right. But compared to all adults, it’s less of a priority. Eighty per cent of millennials say they are “extremely or very healthy” compared to 73% of total adults.

Yet fewer than half of millennials say they work hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and fewer still seek out nutritious benefits or information on nutrition and the benefits of healthy eating.

Young at heart: Baby boomers were young and rebellious growing up in the 1960s and ’70s. Now older, they are not slowing down. Elder boomers are working well into their retirement years. Younger boomers, meanwhile, have extra money to spend now that their kids are finally moving out.

READ: For the next big generation of shoppers, it's about me!

Nevertheless, age is a great equalizer, and boomers can feel themselves turning grey. Older boomers, born between 1946 and 1955, are especially health-conscious. They are starting to be afflicted with diabetes, high cholesterol and other medical conditions that require special diets.

One big difference between boomers and millennials: boomers don’t skip as many meals. Not living the go-go lifestyle also means boomers prepare more of what they eat themselves.

But don’t think for a moment that boomers don’t prize convenience. They absolutely do. One way supermarkets can cater to their convenience craving is with a home meal replacement section. Boomers are more inclined to utilize this part of a grocery store to eat. So consider them when determining your HMR menus and positioning.

How else can you reach boomers and millennials? I’ve got four ideas; two for millennials and two for boomers.

1. Millennials are at a stage of life where convenience and taste trump health. Cross-promotion of portable, ready-to-eat options appeals to them.

2. Out-of-home eating is a defining characteristic of millennial mealtimes. Pique their interest by bringing the foodservice experience into the home. Grocery retailers and manufacturers should also focus on limiting the number of meals this group skips. After all, those missed meals are a lost sales opportunity for you.

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3. For boomers, provide culinary options that allow them to be creative in the kitchen. Premium ingredients to build simple-to-make dishes, or using the HMR section to showcase new and exciting accompaniments to more involved meals, can help create a winning formula.

4. Also for boomers, make health a top priority with relevant labelling. This needn’t be difficult. Heart health is a top concern among this age group, as is managing sodium intake.

There you go. Some tips to cater to your younger customers. And those who still wish to feel young at heart.

Joel Gregoire is the food and beverage industry analyst with NPD Group in Toronto. [email protected]

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