CINCINNATI ­­— The different ways people across generations shop for food will dictate changes in how brands maintain relevance and drive growth. That was the conclusion of recent research from 84.51º, a subsidiary of The Kroger Co.

One way the shopping experience will need to change is in how retailers and consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers think about older customers, said Maria Arand, director of merchandising analytics at 84.51°.

“The report calls out that the proportion of shoppers over 65 will change significantly,” she said. “They are less likely to have large families, more likely to be smaller households, and they may present a number of potential mobility challenges as far as experiences that retailers should be thinking of.”

The research shows the shopper of tomorrow will be older, more likely to live in a one-person or multi-generational household, more diverse, and potentially facing economic challenges.

While the generations share some purchasing habits, they also differ in what they buy and eat. Members of Generation Z (born between 1997-2012), for example, more often buy crackers, processed cheese and popcorn and less often purchase cage-free eggs, seafood and beef sausage. Millennials (1981-1996) go for bagged snacks, baked bread, fluid milk products, natural cheese and bananas and not so much for dry sauces and gravy, South American foods and frozen juices from natural ingredients.

Generation X (1965-1980) also purchase bagged snacks, baked bread, milk and natural cheese, plus soft drinks, and they buy fewer of the same products millennials do. Baby boomers (1946-1964) echo the younger generations’ preference for milk, breads, bagged snacks, bananas and natural cheese, while they’re less often buying cider, frozen meat and seafood and refrigerated dough made with natural ingredients.

Although commonalities exist in the least- and most-purchased items, Arand indicated divergences are appearing.

“We’re used to thinking about an average consumer, but more and more every year, that average consumer represents less of the population,” she said, adding that factor will be increasingly important in product technology in the coming years, such as in smaller packages for smaller households.

Freshness is another element that’s becoming important across all generations of shoppers, Arand said. Exploration is becoming a more frequent part of shopping behavior as well, along with bold and global flavors, so there may be opportunities for food manufacturers and retailers to engage members of Gen Z with seafood products, for example.

Gen Z exhibits what she called a “lack of cooking confidence” or “cooking hesitation,” which is commonly seen among younger generations. This translates into convenient shortcuts such as pre-diced and precooked food items.

 “With millennials, you see (an emphasis on) convenience, health and price,” Arand said. “There is a lot of environmental concern, but we see an interest in health and wellness.”

The increase in ethnic diversity in the United States is impacting food choices as both Hispanic and Asian demographics are experiencing double-digit growth rates, she said. Meanwhile, global food preferences among millennials and Gen Z have resulted in more grocery stores and restaurants offering those items.

Arand said the research underscores that this is a time of rapid change, and that future shopper preferences will influence more than ever what’s available online and in-store.