Boomers Grow Up Eating Their Fruits And Vegetables

By Darren Seifer, Food & Beverage Industry Analyst, The NPD Group

What does a tomato or a banana mean to a retailer’s customers? Actually, it can mean quite a bit in terms of driving retail traffic. The NPD Group’s food market research, which continually tracks what individuals eat and drink, shows that 60 percent of primary shoppers say liking a store’s produce is one of the reasons they regularly shop at a particular store. Having consistently fresh produce and a wide selection is of great importance to getting these consumers to walk through the doors. Understanding and meeting the needs of the different types of produce consumers is another key to driving traffic in the produce area. Let’s take Baby Boomers as an example of a produce consumer base.

As we move into the next 10 to 20 years, a major consideration for producers, manufacturers, and retailers alike will be the aging Boomer population. Comprising roughly 25 percent of the U.S. population, this generation will see kids leaving the home and parents entering retirement years (or at least planning to retire). We have seen this with other generations before, but this time it’s happening on a much grander scale.

Fruit and vegetable consumption tends to increase as consumers age, tied to increasing health concerns. Also, consider that older Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1955, already have begun to increase their consumption of store-fresh fruits and vegetables. National Eating Trends reports the average older Boomer consumed fruit 182 times in 2012, up from only 118 times in 1999. The story is similar for vegetables: now older Boomers consume vegetables about 174 times per year, but in 1999 the average was 149 times.

This research also reveals some channels are doing much better than others at attracting these consumers. For instance, a greater percentage of shoppers more loyal to conventional supermarkets/grocery stores say they like the produce at those stores more than shoppers of natural/gourmet stores that specialize in organic produce. At first, it seems counterintuitive, but peeling back the onion’s layers shows the natural channel is best at attracting people who are looking for unique items as well as organic foods and beverages. This channel pulls in produce-minded consumers who are loyal to other channels, but who are willing to shop around for their produce. This emphasizes the importance of produce to the natural channel, but it also highlights opportunities for other channels to increase their basket sizes with stronger produce offerings.

Since vegetables are often served as a side dish, particularly at dinner, it’s important to look at produce in the full context of eating. Marketers and retailers should consider either cross-marketing or placement strategies that more closely align with consumers’ dinner plates. For example, when looking at all dinners containing a vegetable side dish, chicken, beef, and pork are the top center-of-plate dishes served in those instances. Sandwiches and burgers are also top main dishes at dinner, however, they are less likely to be consumed with vegetables, NPD’s National Eating Trends data shows.

There has also been much concern recently surrounding children’s eating habits and that they may be contributing to obesity. A study conducted by the University of North Carolina showed kids are snacking on about 586 calories per day from snacking occasions alone, which is up from 418 in 1977. While it is true that kids often snack on sweets and savory items, the silver lining is that parents seem to be taking charge of their children’s snacking habits. Over the past 10 years, fruit has grown to become the top snack food for kids, particularly those ages six to 12. This hints at opportunities for retailers to adjust their fruit sections to accommodate snack-minded consumers and shows retailers’ commitment to the health of customers and their families.

NPD’s food market research shows that the quality and freshness of produce is a driver of store traffic and builds retailer loyalty. Boomers grew up hearing that it was important to eat their fruits and vegetables and it’s a lesson they increasingly practice as they age. Understanding the life stages of consumers and their mindset about produce will help increase store traffic, loyalty and dollars.