When it comes to what people like to watch on TV, top show choices are fairly consistent across the various demographics, including the different generations. In a February Harris Poll, CBS’s “NCIS” landed in the Top 3 across all four tracked generations — millennials, Generation Xers, baby boomers and matures. Baby boomers and matures named it No. 1, while it finished as No. 3 for millennials and Generation Xers. Also popular across three of the four generations — millennials, Generation Xers and baby boomers — was CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory,” landing in the No. 2 spot for all three.

Although TV shows might have generational appeal, not all things can resonate with multiple age groups. For the baby boomer generation — those ages 49-67, according to New York-based Nielsen — its presence and influence across the consumer packaged goods (CPG) market will only continue to grow.

“Boomers are the fastest-growing demographic,” says Sherry Frey, senior vice president of Nielsen’s Perishables Group. “Over the next 20 years, the 50-plus age group fueled by boomers will be the fastest-growing age demographic at 34 percent, while the younger 18-49 demographic is expected to only grow 12 percent,” she explains. “Why is this? Two simple facts: First people are living longer, and second, the birth rate is declining. Essentially, more people are exiting the traditional 18-49 demographic than are entering it.”

Nielsen currently calculates that the baby boomer generation accounts for 76.3 million people of the U.S. population. This is 200,000 less than millennials, which account for 76.5 million, according to Nielsen data.

In Chicago-based Mintel’s January 2014 report “Marketing to Baby Boomers – US,” the market research firm estimates that baby boomers (ages 50-86, by its definition) accounted for 23.6 percent of the U.S. population at that time. The millennial generation (ages 20-37) is the only generation baby boomers trailed, which was 24.5 percent of the U.S. population. Mintel also found that a majority of baby boomers are white (82.2 percent) and non-Hispanic (89.3 percent); 67 percent are married, although divorce rates are increasing for the
50-plus age group; 71.6 percent have a household size of two or more individuals; and roughly seven in 10 are in the labor force.

Given its vast size, the baby boomer generation is contributing quite a bit to the consumer market. When analyzing baby boomers’ CPG shopping habits, the generation might spend less in each trip to the store, but they shop more frequently, increasing the amount each household spends, according to Nielsen data.

In Nielsen’s Homescan data for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 28, 2013, excluding gas- and prescription-only purchase trips, baby boomers averaged 153 shopping trips for each household in total retail channels, with a basket total of $46 on average for each trip. This equates to $7,086 in basket totals for the year, Nielsen notes. In comparison, millennials averaged 104 shopping trips a year for a household at $54 on average for each trip, totaling $5,655 for basket sales for the year in each household. Generation Xers come the closest to baby boomers for total basket sales for the year at $7,007; however, their shopping trips for each household equates to 129 with an average basket size of $54 for each trip, Nielsen found.

Resonating with the group

Despite their large contributions to the U.S. population size and purchases, baby boomers might not be receiving the same attention in the CPG space as other generations.

“Boomers dominate 94 percent of consumer packaged goods categories, and they spend close to 50 percent of all food dollars, including fresh [food], yet it is estimated that less than 5 percent of advertising dollars are targeted to adults 35-64,” Nielsen’s Frey says.

According to Mintel’s report, baby boomers outspend other generations by an estimated $400 billion each year on consumer goods and services, and their annual expenditures are higher than average. The market research firm notes that the generation’s spending has been estimated by some authorities to account for half of all U.S. expenditures at roughly $2.3 trillion a year.

Taking into account the amount of spending power the baby boomer generation is responsible for, market research firms point out that it is important to understand what motivates these consumers. “Boomers’ brand loyalty levels are the same as other age groups,” Nielsen’s Frey points out. “They are no more likely to compare prices or use coupons than other consumers. Their brand loyalty is influenced more by household size or need than predisposition.”

Fiona O’Donnell, senior lifestyles and leisure analyst for Mintel and author of the “Marketing to Baby Boomers – US” report, notes that methods of appealing to the baby boomer generation need to include a balance between newfound needs and previous behaviors. “For the generation’s that proclaimed, ‘Never trust anyone over 30,’ boomers are reluctant to change their behaviors and beliefs to fit a number — meaning that brands should expect the boomers will challenge notions about what it means to be 50-plus,” she said in the report. “However, despite boomers’ desire to redefine age, the reality of being older is catching up, and there is a growing need for products and services that help without overtly being targeted to the older market.”

As such, baby boomers might soon be spending more money on products that support their health, wellness and leisure interests, the Mintel reports states.

In Nielsen’s August 2014 report “Health and Wellness in America,” the market research firm notes that U.S. consumers seek out specific ingredients and product claims to aid their healthy lifestyle goals. For baby boomers, 62 percent listed fiber as an ingredient of which they want more in their products, based on data from the Natural Marketing Institute’s 2013 Health & Wellness Trends Database. The next most popular were antioxidants, heart-healthy ingredients and vitamins/minerals at 57 percent each, Nielsen notes. Other popular ingredients listed were omega-3s and vitamin D at 56 percent each, calcium with 54 percent, and whole grains at 53 percent.

Nielsen’s Frey also notes the importance of health and wellness to consumers, particularly those aged 50 and older. “As the world’s population lives longer, consumers are focused on staying active and being healthy,” she says. “Almost half of respondents in a recent Nielsen global survey (45 percent) said eating healthy is the most important priority after retirement, and this group deserves attention. In just three years, close to 50 percent of the population in the United States alone will be 50 and older, and they will control 70 percent of the country’s disposable income.”

Frey notes that health and wellness trends will have an impact on the products  baby boomers will purchase. “Boomers are strong beverage consumers of a few key categories and will be inclined to find products that meet their health and wellness needs,” she says.

Although the 50-and-older age group will account for nearly three-quarters of the U.S. disposable income in the next three years, brands should avoid a one-size-fits-all mentality, Frey says.

“Manufacturers are changing how they market to boomers,” she explains. “Boomers are media and marketing friendly, but marketers must put the ‘me’ in marketing messages. No other group has had such a profound sense of self-consciousness. Mass marketing, which they grew up on, is yielding to more customized and personalized messaging. This is not a homogeneous group, so savvy marketers are identifying one or several small, high-potency segments that will deliver a high [return-on-investment] for a limited, well-targeted spend.”

Frey suggests that marketers should segment baby boomers based on their category needs and personal values. This could allow brand owners the opportunity to identify a specific group of consumers to which it can target its messaging. Another way to appeal to baby boomers is featuring them in their advertisements. “More than half of boomers worldwide (51 percent) say advertising messaging is not resonating because they don’t see ads that reflect older consumers,” she says.

Marketers also should seek to leverage the hobbies that baby boomers have come to enjoy, Frey says. “Cooking and eating in is taking on a new meaning for older consumers who now have the time to cook and who are more nutritionally aware than when they were younger,” she says. “When thinking about the shopping needs of an older demographic, we sometimes forget that boomers live active social lives and enjoy entertaining with family and friends — and not just other boomers. They are often entertaining Generation Xers and millennials – a triple win if you can get your products in the occasion.”

Among the ways marketers could leverage the entertainment factor for baby boomers is by highlighting the product categories — including the beverage space — that this generation tends to over-index on compared with the general population. According to Nielsen’s Homescan data for total retail sales for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 28, 2013, baby boomers over-index the dollar sales buying rate in carbonated soft drinks and wine.

What they want

But even if brand owners are able to appeal to baby boomers through their advertising, this generation not only is looking for specific needs and trends from the products they purchase but also through their experience within retail outlets.

In Mintel’s report, 77 percent of respondents — or 630 Internet users aged 49-67 — listed “Getting the most value for my money” as a very important need when purchasing a product or service. The market research firm theorizes that this response shows that baby boomers are looking beyond the cheapest products or highly discounted items if they determine that a product is worth the extra cost. Forty-two percent of respondents, however, listed “Purchasing items at a discount” as very important. This type of deal could help encourage trial for these consumers, but the products still must equal the expectations that baby boomers are looking for, Mintel reports.

“Having a positive experience in stores” also resonated with respondents, as 42 percent listed this as very important. Mintel suggests that retailers should prioritize knowledgeable and friendly staff, uncluttered environments, and appropriate lighting levels and audio to attract value-seeking baby boomer consumers.

In Nielsen’s “Global Consumer Confidence Survey About Aging, Q3 2013,” which was fielded Aug. 14 -Sept. 6, 2013, the market research firm asked global respon-dents to indicate what needs of aging consumers stores are not meeting. It found that 41 percent do not find that electric shopping carts meet their needs; 36 percent are disappointed with assistance with grocery bags; 34 percent are not pleased with the aisles dedicated to aging-needs products; 33 percent do not see their needs being met for handicapped check-out aisles; and 29 percent do not think there are enough benches to sit down.

These same respondents were questioned about the difficulty to find certain items on store shelves. The following items were indicated as difficult to find: 50 percent
said easy-to-read product labels; 45 percent indicated foods for special nutritional needs; 44 percent listed smaller-portion-sized food packaging; 43 percent said easy-to-open product packages; and 43 percent named clearly labeled nutrition information.

However, one area that is not as high on baby boomers’ list of what they look for in their CPG purchases is cause-related practices. Mintel’s report notes that if a product’s quality and accessibility are lacking, promoting the brand’s charitable or idealistic principles will not make up for the other areas. This is not to say that baby boomers are immune to altruistic practices. Three out of 10 baby boomers reported making an effort to purchase products from what they consider “good” companies or brands, and one in five will make an extra effort to buy products that support causes that resonate with them, according to Mintel.

Among the causes that appeal to baby boomers, the Top 6 issues are poverty in the United States (39 percent), education (34 percent), physical health-related issues (34 percent), veterans/military (30 percent), online privacy and security (25 percent), and the environment (25 percent).

Don’t get too technical

Baby boomers are no stranger to technical advancements that assist business and personal lives. However, compared with the general population, the baby boomer generation is not as attached to their technical devices.

One in five baby boomers reports using his or her smartphone daily, Mintel reports. This amount is less than their ownership rates, it notes. According to Mintel’s report, more than half of those aged 45-54, and nearly four out of 10 aged 55-64, own a smartphone. Baby boomers also under-index compared with the general public when redeeming retail coupons or special promotions using their mobile devices. Sixteen percent of all respondents reported using their mobile devices for this versus 10 percent of baby boomers. The generation also is less likely to prioritize their mobile device than other forms of media. Fifteen percent of all respondents said they would rather give up broadcast TV than their mobile phone, while only 7 percent of baby boomers agreed with this statement.

However, baby boomers are not averse to other forms of media and the marketing that accompanies them. “Boomers represent one-third of all online and social media users,” Nielsen’s Frey says. “Close to another third of them — 29 million — say they are heavy users of the Internet, with over 8 million of them spending 20-plus hours a week online; half [of] a work week.”

Although the generation has embraced more forms of media, it still is a high consumer of TV. “Their TV usage increases with age, and the boomers remain one of the medium’s top viewing groups,” Frey says. “They spend 174 hours a month watching TV, second only to “traditionalists” 65 and up and significantly more than Gen Xers and millennials.”

Frey notes that allows marketers to reach baby boomers through multiple media outlets using both new forms and traditional TV advertising.

Mintel’s report also notes that baby boomers have been reluctant to embrace new forms of media advertising, except when they view it as a benefit to themselves. Thirty-seven percent of respondents noted that they want emails from companies and brands if they offer a benefit in return, the market research firm found.

 As brand owners continue to innovate their products to meet the needs of consumers, it seems as though market research firms have noted that the baby boomer generation is looking for customized messaging and a focus on healthy products that resonate with them.