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A Day in Food Life: Understanding Today’s Aging Consumers for Tomorrow’s Food Products


Aging consumersEvolutionary lifestyle insights to inspire product development that targets the increasing population of older consumers 

Meet Jim and Barbara, ages 63 and 61. They live in suburban Chicago and share lifelong interests in learning and adventure. They have two children of their own, and Jim has three from his first marriage. They’re college-educated professionals: Barbara is a nurse, and Jim is a civil engineer. Their busy life includes regular visits to Jim's mother (who at age 86 lives in a nearby assisted living complex) and occasional trips to Barbara's mother and father (who are 84 and 83 and live on their own in Scottsdale). Their oldest son, Robert, age 35, has "temporarily" lived in their walkout basement apartment for two years. 

As they’ve aged, Barbara and Jim have developed a growing interest in healthy living and creating a higher-quality way of life. Those desires complement their need to manage stress and time, which includes making enough money to experiment with new lifestyle interests. They take evening walks, and Barbara attends Zumba Fitness classes three times a week. They enjoy improving their home and yard, shopping for specialty foods, eating out, cooking and traveling.

Their focus on healthy living is tied to several desires—to "be there" for their grandkids, to spend more quality time with each other, to travel to the places they haven't seen, and hopefully to live healthier, happier lives than their parents did. 

Aging consumers eating occasionsOne of the most profound health-related concerns for Jim and Barbara is weight management. Both view control of their weight as essential to feeling young and healthy. They find managing weight requires a multi-level strategy: As a literal tool to prevent illness, as a process that symbolically represents empowerment and control, and as a physical emblem of good health. Over the past decade, they’ve made gradual changes toward portion control and eating in moderation. 

Barbara and Jim also are more aware of how certain foods and beverages make them feel, and they enjoy sharing their observations with friends and family. They try to eat fresher foods and healthier snacks. Instead of cooking from cans and boxes, they prefer scratch cooking (mainly on weekends and special occasions), as well as composing meals from prepared supermarket foods, pre-assembled meal components, or restaurant takeout. 

They share a perception that the world of food can be divided into “good/right” and “bad.” It frames their entire discourse about health: good and bad fat, good and bad calories, good and bad sweeteners, good and bad cholesterol. Their view of the "bad" stuff includes processed brands they grew up with, from McDonald's to Jell-O to Oscar Mayer. They associate the “good” or “right” foods with shopping at specialty retailers and the ethnic or gourmet sections of local supermarkets, eating out and experimenting with new cuisines and flavors. The notion of “ethnic” and premium foods constitutes what's new and different (in contrast to Midwestern pressure-cooked meat and potatoes, for example), and it requires Jim and Barbara to expand their taste and texture expectations. The experience of those foods feels to them like a form of personal growth and pleasure, and they consider such experiences “good for them.”

Jim and Barbara shop for foods and beverages at a range of stores, from Trader Joe's to Whole Foods, Costco, Mariano's, Jewel, Walgreens, Walmart and Target. Because Jim grew up with parents who were more affected by the Great Depression, he seeks out an intersection of what he considers value and quality; he favors Aldi, Walmart and Strack & Van Til. Barbara often goes to Mariano's, and together they shop regularly at Trader Joe's, occasionally at Whole Foods and monthly at Costco. They go together to share food experiences at those stores more than to target specific products. 

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FOOD SHOPPING IN AMERICA 2017

As leaders in the study of American food culture, The Hartman Group has been tracking how Americans shop for food since the 1990s. From one-stop shopping to multichannel shopping to online markets and click-and-collect, we continue to track consumers’ evolving perceptions, needs, habits and relationships with food retailers. New to the 2017 report is a special section on the expansion of the discount grocery channel, the emerging fresh-format channel and smaller-footprint retail formats.

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