The sheer demographics of Baby Boomers have long driven fads and trends in the U.S.--from the popularity of hula hoops, to the Beatles, to various foods. Gerber (Fremont, Mich.) baby food found success in the 1950s, pizza in the 1960s and, now, aging Boomers drive interest in foods' healthfulness. Numbering about 80 million, Boomer eating patterns continue to shape foodservice trends as well.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Washington), as household size grows from one to four, more is spent on food outside the home. However, the expenditure per person decreases. That is, a one-person household spent $1,434 in 2003 on food-away-from-home; a house of four spent $3,204--only $801 per person. As Boomers age, empty their nests and create smaller households, their individual foodservice spending thus would likely rise.

Indeed, the NPD Group (Port Washington, N.Y.) report “Profile of American Baby Boomers: Health, Diet and Consumption Behaviors and Attitudes” notes that before having children, Baby Boomers were the most frequent users of restaurants. Restaurant usage declined with the advent of children, but older Boomers now are returning.

Little Focus on Taste

As opposed to younger Boomers, the older portion of this huge demographic has greater concern about the fat, salt, cholesterol and sugar content in foods, the NPD study finds. Yet, burgers and fries continue to be favored foodservice fare, in general. Boomers also are more likely to have steak, seafood, soup and salad than in their younger days. Such information on food preferences is not easy to find, as data on Boomers' health issues dominate.

Typing “'food choices' 'baby boomers'” into Google's (Mountain View, Calif.) search field produces a plethora of websites. Some 18 of the first 20 focus on Boomers' interest in health and nutrition. Of the remaining two, one highlights Boomers' taste expectations, explaining they want “fresh foods with authentic flavor.” It also noted that aging results in a very gradual loss of tasting and smelling ability. The final site had an upbeat tone, as it quoted Liz Sloan of Sloan Trends & Solutions (Escondito, Calif.), who observes that with increased disposable incomes and kids leaving home (along with their resistance to try new things), Boomers can express interest in more “sophisticated meals with exotic flavors suitable for adult palates.“

When the “2005 Prepared Foods R&D Trends Study: New Flavorings Systems” asked food manufacturers what three leading flavoring trends they would like to know more about, 25% selected the preferences of those aged 36 to 60. This compares to 21% interested in “preferences of those aged 20 to 35” and 8% curious about “preferences of adults over 60.”

“Boomers want to have it their way,” says Harry Balzer, vice president of The NPD Group. Success will come easier to prepared foods companies trying to discover what way that is.