May, 2011

Research Perspective and Comments & Analysis

Marketing To Baby Boomers Today

by Steven Muro, President, Fusion Marketing


Baby Boomers’ Attitude Towards Healthy Eating

Baby Boomers aspire to maintain a healthy lifestyle, according to the results of the “Healthy Eating” survey conducted by NPD Group, a market research company based in Port Washington, NY. The survey revealed that the No. 1 motivator for Baby Boomers is eating right. Yet further exploration into the research shows that these aspirations do not always mirror reality.

When comparing consumers’ actual consumption of various food groups to USDA’s HEI (Healthy Eating Index), an aggregate measure of overall healthfulness of a diet, the findings uncovered distinct opportunities for improving healthful eating habits. The No. 1 opportunity for Boomers is the increased consumption of fresh fruit. This is followed in varying degrees by dairy and vegetables.


The Challenge

Consumers expect to have what they want, the way they want it. They expect information that is clear and relevant to their needs, aspirations and stage in life, especially in today’s environment. This means bringing the same level of effort, research and knowledge to marketing efforts that is applied to researching, producing and growing products. 

If you think targeted marketing is not critical to the produce industry, think again. The competition is not just the rival grower/shipper across town or from that “inferior” growing region across the country. Fresh produce is up against an entire sweet and salty snack food and industry with billions of dollars in research and marketing resources. 

“Produce can’t compete toe-to-toe with these types of monetary resources. We have to be smarter, more targeted and more efficient with our resources,” says Steven Muro, president of Fusion Marketing.

The produce industry can create an advantage with consumers, extend resources and increase its return on investment by utilizing a micro-targeting strategy. The industry can use its strengths to know customers better and get closer to them than the competition in the packaged/snack food industries. But how? By dissecting Baby Boomers further, we can discover how to apply a micro-targeting strategy aimed at this group of consumers.


Who Is “The” Boomer?

According to the latest research from NPD Group, there are two very different segments of the Boomer generation. Young Boomers are those age 46 to 54. Older Boomers are 55 to 64 years of age. Below are the percentages of the population made up of boomers:


Younger Boomers

From 2005 to 2010, younger Boomers increased their annual consumption of fresh fruit by 7 percent. Watermelon consumption has nearly doubled since 2005. Bananas, strawberries, pineapple, blueberries and cherries have also experienced notable growth. However, grapes, mixed fruit and nectarine consumption have declined among young Boomers.

Additionally, among young Boomers annual fresh vegetable consumption has risen 8 percent from 2005 to 2010. The leading increases in consumption among young Boomers are green beans, carrots, onions, lettuce and mixed vegetables, while the largest declines are corn and squash.


Older Boomers

Older Boomers decreased their consumption of fresh fruit annually 5 percent, from 2005 to 2010. While bananas are the top fresh fruit consumed by older Boomers, consumption has substantially declined over the past five years. A noticeable decline in grape consumption has also contributed to the overall decline in fresh fruit consumption among older Boomers. Tangerines, watermelon and apples are among the fresh fruits experiencing growth in consumption by Older Boomers.

Among older Boomers. the rate of eating fresh vegetable annually declined 4 percent from 2005 to 2010. Specifically, older Boomers have increased their intake of mixed vegetables, peppers and asparagus, while reducing their consumption of corn, cabbage and tomatoes.


Motives and Implications

According to NPD Group research, the top health motivator for both young Boomers and older Boomers is “feeling healthier.” Another prime motivator for Young Boomers is losing weight, whereas living longer is high on the list for Older Boomers.

“The research reveals just how differently these sub-sets of a traditionally homogenous group of consumers can be. By applying even these top-line findings, marketers of fresh produce can generate real and measureable results. Further research into Boomers and other important consumer targets can yield even deeper and richer results for businesses in the produce industry,” Muro concludes.

Promotions related to weight loss should be targeted toward the young Boomers, whereas the older Boomers may be more interested in messages related to maintaining health longer. 


Opportunities In Using New Technology

There is little question that marketing becomes more effective as it becomes more specific. That a group such as “baby boomers” spanning almost 20 years should not be homogeneous is hardly surprising and that marketers who don’t segment are bound to be less effective than those who do is almost surely correct.

It is not even clear that age is the most important segmenting that can be done. After all, Bill Gates is a boomer and so is some unknown African-American welfare recipient living in the projects in downtown Philadelphia. One doubts the key variable between these two people is that they have a 10-year gap in between their birthdays.

An even bigger issue when it comes to produce marketing may be the common assumption that because people express an aspiration — healthy living, weight loss, long life, etc. — they will be receptive to marketing messages focused on these issues. Without a doubt, some subset of the population will be influenced by such messages, but our experience is that many will not.

You can see this in other industries as well. Take travel. A correlation of this aspiration for a healthy life would be exercise and fitness, yet resorts and cruise lines find it useful to promote a promise of indulgence and a hint of sex appeal, rather than a strenuous workout.

The question is this: When people say they want to be healthy, do they mean they want to diet and exercise to keep their cholesterol down or do they mean they would like to take Lipitor so they can eat and exercise as they like? Judged by the millions on Lipitor and similar drugs, the weight of evidence leans toward the latter.

Fresh produce marketers have another dilemma; even if marketing for health reasons is persuasive to consumers, it is not clear that fresh can really get the benefit here. Under its purview, the Fruit & Veggies — More Matters program includes fresh, frozen, canned and 100 percent juice. This is because the relevant government authorities have refused to declare fresh more beneficial than alternative forms of produce when it comes to health.

As the quality of frozen food has improved, household sizes have gotten smaller, and everything from world travel to The Food Network has diversified the types of produce people eat. Consumers of all ages are interested in having produce of all types available day after day — without the risk of it going rotten. This leads to increased interest in frozen product.

We would be cautious in accepting survey results at face value when it comes to consumption. Consumers know that vegetables are the Gold Standard when it comes to healthy eating and so may ‘guild the lily’ in reporting consumption.

One area where Steven Muro is clearly correct is that the produce industry needs a new, more targeted marketing approach. For all of living memory, the primary marketing tool for the produce industry has been the weekly retailer best food day ad or circular.

Yet as newspapers have gotten weaker and more expensive, this tool becomes less effective. Many younger people don’t subscribe to newspapers at all, relying instead on free content on the Internet. Clearly, both retailers and their suppliers need new ways to reach consumers.

In some cases this is just a matter of switching media — advertising on popular Web sites and blogs in addition to, or in place of, the traditional newspaper ads. With new publications springing up every day optimized for PDAs such as the iPhone or tablets such as the iPad, these opportunities are ever expanding.

Another powerful tool is to use social media such as Facebook and Twitter to interact with the community. Each retailer and vendor can, and should, also have their own Web sites to reach out directly to consumers.

Technology today, though, is creating opportunities that simply didn’t exist before. With the correct code on the produce, the wave of a PDA can bring the consumer into direct contact with a producer and with the producer’s story. Frequent shopper cards become a much more powerful tool when the data gathered leads to special e-mail and in-store offers.

It is silly for produce vendors to try to be Coke or Pepsi, but new technology is allowing individual vendors and their retail partners to reach out to consumers more consistently, more effectively, with more personalized offers. Instead of advertising “all you diabetics out there,” now we can gather special needs information when people sign up for a frequent shopper card and target offers specifically to families with a diabetic or a school-age child living in the household.

We also can far better judge the effectiveness of our promotions if we go to those baby boomers participating in a frequent shopper program and do a controlled experiment. Offer half just a fruit and a lecture on health; give the other half a fruit and some dark chocolate dip with a promise of indulgence — we won’t know the results until the study is done but, survey results not withstanding, we can’t recommend betting against chocolate.