The charge of the blue rinse brigade

Advertising tends to be aimed at the young, all but ignoring the over-55 age group. Could companies be missing out by steering clear of this potentially lucrative market?

Older consumers may not inspire the same kind of excitement among advertisers as the youth market does, but a report from Reuters Business Insight suggests that the grey market should be ignored at a brand’s peril. The report shows that over-55s spend more money on packaged goods that any other age group, and older consumers will spend more on food and drink than all other consumer groups combined over the next two years.

The research from the report, called the Marketing Food and Drink to Senior Consumers: Lifestyle and Purchasing Patterns of the over-55s, shows that the older consumer is no longer a minority market and is an area of huge potential for brands looking for new growth. But marketers still seem to see the youth market as being more exciting and lucrative.

The habits of the over-55s do tend to support the notion that they are not the most experimental consumers. They tend to shop to budget, buy less on impulse and spend much less each time they shop, although they do go shopping more frequently. They also claim not to be influenced by advertising, as they are more likely to shop around for the best prices.

But the Reuters research shows that this masks a radical change in values of this age group. Marketers are already familiar with the idea of children growing older younger, but the report shows that over-55s are staying younger longer.

But is the reason for older consumers not responding to ads because marketers and advertising agencies tend to focus on youth? This theme dominates mass advertising, while new product development is often aimed at younger consumers and families. The focus is attributable to the relative expenditures of the over-55s and the rest of the market at the main multiple grocers. This bias towards families means that brand owners also tend not to focus on an older audience.

The growth of spend in major retailers by older consumers outstrips the average, but retailers need to drive up the frequency of sales in the age group. Younger consumers still spend much more in Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda than the over-55s, who are heavier users of local and traditional stores.

The trend towards lifestyle marketing is blurring the lines in terms of new products, with areas such as health foods tending to span the age divide. Almost half of all consumers claim they try to buy a range of healthy products, with similar numbers of young and old consumers buying healthy foods and claiming to take regular exercise. Encouragingly for the future health of the nation, the report found that 25 per cent of all age groups surveyed believe that low-calorie products taste as good as normal ones.

Organic products are also an area of huge potential growth, as 47 per cent of the under-55s and 48 per cent of the over-55s surveyed claim that they would buy more organic food if the price was the same as the non-organic equivalent. There is also a shared dislike of genetically modified food, with 32 per cent of under-55s avoiding it and 38 per cent of over-55s. In this case, the traditional values of older consumers are being mirrored by a group of aspirational twenty- and thirtysomethings seeking quality and authenticity in the products they buy.

However, there are still some distinct differences between the over-55s and the rest of the market. In terms of brand, just less than half of the older consumers surveyed claim that they try to buy British brands where possible, compared with 28 per cent of the rest of the market. And while the over-55s are open to new experiences and foods, this is not reflected in their enjoyment of trying new brands. The disparity is perhaps indicative of the paucity of brands targeted at older people and, again, another major opportunity for brand owners.

The Reuters Business Insight research finds that the most age-dependent area is snacking. It shows that snacks are used more as a stop-gap, pick-me-up or accompaniment to relaxing for younger consumers, but the over-55s remain more traditional. They do not place any importance on snacking and have not been brought into the idea of “grazing” or eating several smaller meals or snacks throughout the day. As a result, the target market of snack brands remains younger consumers.

This does present growth opportunities for older people, notably in premium snacks designed to be eaten in the home. The Walkers Sensations range has already had significant success in this area.

Changing demographics and spending patterns clearly have an effect on the brand landscape and will continue to do so. Brands such as McVitie’s, Weight Watchers and non-food brands such as Andrex and Persil should be characterised as transitional, as they have tried to move away from being family-oriented to a growing share of sales to older people. Many established brands are “ageing” with the population, and while this used to be seen as a weakness, it is now becoming a strength.


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