We need to talk about boomers

Using the shift to digital to build more direct relationships with the over-50s

Food and drink marketeers have long been serious about getting down with the kids.

Whether it’s major suppliers revamping their product portfolios to boost their appeal to young shoppers or retailers courting Gen Z on TikTok, youth-focused marketing is everywhere. Even regulators want a piece of the action, publishing lengthy reports on how to make sense of young consumers and their attitudes to food.

With good reason - Gen Z now accounts for 40% of global consumers and influences hundreds of billions in spend. What’s more, its expectations around brand purpose, social and environmental credentials and diversity and inclusion can be markedly different to those of older generations. With younger shoppers also typically more open to trying new brands, food and drink companies are right to invest in understanding, and building relationships with, this increasingly important cohort.

At the same time, they must not lose sight of the needs of – and opportunities around – older demographics.

According to the Mature Marketing Association (MMA), only 5% of advertising is currently targeted at the over-50s, even though they account for 80% of disposable income.

Where advertisers do target older consumers, the messaging is often clunky and one-dimensional. Think funerals, life insurance and incontinence pads instead of aspirational lifestyle content. Technology, fashion and beauty brands are frequent offenders, but food and drink advertisers also have work to do. In a 2018 survey by Gransnet, 63% of respondents over 50 said they felt food and drink advertising was under- or misrepresenting their age group.

Continued failure to engage the over-50s could be especially costly in the wake of the pandemic. Older consumers will receive Covid-19 vaccines before Gen Z and millennials, allowing them to move around more freely and splash out on holidays and meals out. It’s why some commentators are already predicting a ‘silver surge’ in post-Covid spending driven by vaccinated ‘boomers’.

On top of this, the over-50s are more likely to have come out of the pandemic with their finances intact. Unemployment and job insecurity have disproportionately hit younger people. A report by Tesco and The Prince’s Trust found nearly a quarter of young people (23%) in the UK don’t feel confident about their future work. Globally, the average annual gross income of those aged 25 to 29 dropped by 6% in real terms in 2020.

By contrast, the over-50s are primed to increase their spend on food and drink. Recent research by Attest found that 27.3% of older consumers plan to spend more on groceries in the immediate future compared with 19.5% of those aged 18 to 40. Tomorrow’s over-50s are also set to spend more. Figures from the MMA suggest 64% of today’s 40-49 year olds expect to increase their spending on food and drink over the next 10 years.

Grocery brands that want to secure their share of this extra spend will need to figure out how to speak to over-50s in ways that are relevant and authentic.


Health is one obvious opportunity. Healthy eating was already the top health priority for the over-55s, and the pandemic has further increased this generation’s health consciousness. No wonder ‘active ageing’ was recently highlighted by Barclays as a key NPD opportunity for the food and drink sector.

The boom in ecommerce, which has seen many older shoppers buy groceries online for the first time, has also opened new avenues for engagement. Although not all online buying will prove sticky, with some vaccinated older shoppers already returning to stores, savvy brands and retailers will use the shift to digital to build more direct relationships with the over-50s.

The biggest opportunity, however, lies in a change of mindset. The disruption to shopper behaviour caused by the pandemic has forced many food and drink brands to re-evaluate how they market to consumers. In the process, it’s created an opportunity for marketeers to look again at the over-50s and see them for what they are: an important, diverse group of people who deserve the same level of relevance, creativity and fun as millennials and Gen Z.