Every shopper brings their unique individuality to the store, and retailers will never be able to market or promote to each individual with 100% success. However, certain demographics of shoppers definitely share characteristics that set them apart from the others. The three biggest shopper demographics that retailers can focus their marketing and promotions on are generational. Baby boomers (approximately 80 million), Generation X (approximately 57 million) and millennials (approximately 73 million) represent the largest shopping demographics today.

Baby boomer preferences

According to consumer studies from Nielsen, data showed that 80 million US baby boomers currently account for 50% of consumer packaged goods (CPG) sales. A demographic of this size, and a considerable amount of spending power, requires the utmost attention of food retailers who look to maximize sales.

Baby boomers want healthier foods, but they want them to have simple, clear and logical benefits rather than labels touting benefits due to fortification from an ingredient that has been isolated from a different source and added to the foods being purchased. They read labels, do research and show interest in foods that aid digestion, cardiovascular health and memory function, according to Technomic’s Retailer Meal Solutions. Increase interest by showing baby boomers strong scientific evidence of the efficacy of those benefits.

As a coincidence of falling birthrates, healthier and longer lives, higher rates of wealth and longer career spans, there will be more people over the age of 60 than younger than 15 by 2047, according to A.T. Kearney’s Understanding the Needs and Consequences of the Aging Consumer. Today’s older consumers, and the ones who will follow them, have a special set of needs due to their aging bodies and changing lifestyles. An important thing for retailers to remember about baby boomers is that they come from all walks of life. Like their younger counterparts, they are not a homogenous group, Kearney says. 

Training and educating staff to be knowledgeable about health and ingredient labeling will go a long way with shoppers from the baby boomer generation. Baby boomers are naturally brand-loyal and prefer quality to lower priced items of questionable quality. According to the International Deli Dairy Bake Association’s (IDDBA) What’s in Store 2014, 43% of these older shoppers said they’ll only buy products on special offer if the quality is equal to their normal purchase.

Speed, ease and authenticity

Generation X, the smallest of the three generations, has reached a point in their lives where they are being pulled in different directions by aging parents and young children. In the Futures Company study titled “A Closer Look at Consumers 35-55”, 71% of Generation X stated that no matter how hard they try, they never seem to have enough time to do all the things they need to. When marketing to this generation, consider convenience and time savings as top priorities.

Generation X appreciates a smooth and quick shopping experience. Because of a multitude of responsibilities and little time, the ability to effectively get through the store , find the things they need and get out efficiently, setting up easy transitions from department to department puts Generation X shoppers at ease. When promoting and merchandising items to this generation specifically, take into account its appreciation of time savings and strategize appropriately.

While Generation X is considerably smaller than the baby boomers and millennials as a whole, its basket ring dollars per household is high. At $7194 per household for the 52 weeks ending December 29, 2012, Generation X’s basket ring is over $1000 higher than millennials at $6060 and barely below baby boomers, whose basket ring is $7194, according to Nielsen. Also, Generation X competes on basket ring dollars per trip. With a $53 per trip, it’s only $1 dollar behind millennials and beats the baby boomers’ $46 basket ring per trip.

Nielsen also found that Generation X craves authenticity in advertising. The 2011 Futures Company study reinforces this with data that states 69% of Generation X believes most businesses would take advantage of the public if they felt it was unlikely they would be found out. Skeptical of business motives and marketing communications, a majority of Generation X lives by the creed, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Honesty and forthrightness carries weight with Generation X. Train staff to be knowledgeable and matter-of-fact, and shoppers of this generation will appreciate it. Although they are the smallest of the three generations, they are at a point in life when shopping retail food outlets is imperative to their existence. Shopping not only for themselves and younger children, but often for aging parents dictates that they will use the supermarket and use it often.      

Sustainability, ethics and social justice

Millennials were born into a world that provided infinite information at their fingertips at any time. These consumers have a multitude of options that make them less responsive to traditional advertising. Their access to information and the ability to interpret it has caused them to prefer a lighter, more entertaining experience when it comes to advertising.

According to Prosper Insights & Analytics, a data set examiner and solutions provider, millennials have a “live for today” mentality. They less likely carry mortgages and many have yet to start families or have children. Optimistic about the future of the economy, a monthly survey of the generation by the IDDBA called “Filling the Gap” found that 90% felt like the state of the economy was affecting them. However, the survey also found that it was not enough to keep them from living their lives, eating out and hunting for deals.

The millennial generation possesses a truly global palate. Baby boomers did not have the same access to world travel, nor did they grow up with the internet taking them wherever they wanted to go with the click of a mouse. Exposure and digital media has led millennials to foods that come from places that were once somewhat foreign to baby boomers and Generation X. What’s in Store 2014 states that the millennial generation loves adventurous Asian food and seeks out Italian and Mexican dishes for comfort foods.  The expectation for – and interest in – globalized flavors is taken for granted as a feature of everyday life.

The younger generation buys food from the standpoint of ethics, sustainability, simplicity, activism and transparency, according to Sharon Olson, executive director of the Culinary Visions Panel. Foods that express social justice through proper treatment of animals and the workers who produce the food are seen as ethical by millennials. They will pay a premium for sustainability whether it’s in the form of locally grown food, food that is packaged with sustainability in mind. Certifications on labeling ensuring social justice and sustainability appeal most to the millennials.