Millennials vs. Baby Boomers: What Do Their Buying and Eating Habits Tell Us About Their Generation?

By the Editors

We’ve explored the spending behaviors of millennials and baby boomers in past posts, including some of the unique challenges of effectively marketing to each of these groups. These key customer segments represent close to 60% of the total U.S. population, making their purchasing power undeniable for most mainstream brands. While recent studies show that the general spending behaviors of millennials and baby boomers are quite similar, it’s important for consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands to take their research a step further. Taking a closer look at which products these important customer segments are buying and why can inform your own marketing and product development efforts. This data is also critical to helping your marketing team effectively reach more customers. Here’s a closer look at what millennials and baby boomers are buying, and what it tells us about their generation.

Sense of adventure

Recently, the Boston Consulting Group partnered with marketing company Barkley and the Service Management Group on a study that looked at the buying behaviors of millennials and baby boomers. One portion of the study compared the two customer segments’ sense of adventure. It was found that millennials as a group were more adventuresome in terms of their travel choices, life experiences, and willingness to try new things. This behavior also influenced their purchasing decisions when it came to grocery shopping. Not only were millennials more likely to seek out interesting new flavors and products to try, it was also a key factor with regard to grocery stores at which they chose to shop. Millennial consumers surveyed indicated that access to exotic products and flavors was one of their primary motivators when choosing where to buy their groceries, which has direct implications for brands’ marketing and distribution choices.

Cause-related purchasing

Many millennials view themselves as civic-minded and responsible for making positive choices that will truly make a difference in the world. In turn, they often seek out socially responsible companies when making purchases. The data supports this behavior, showing that cause-related campaigns are a driving factor for millennials as they shop for groceries. Customers in the 18-34 age bracket were generally more aware of cause-related consumer packaged goods campaigns than baby boomers. Yoplait’s “Save Lids to Save Lives” and Pepsi’s “Refresh” campaign were both widely known among millennial consumers. Baby boomers were generally less aware of these efforts. However, it’s important to note that awareness of ongoing campaigns, like Box Tops for Education, were equal among both groups.

Healthy lifestyle choices

According to the recent study, consumers in the 18-34 age group were 36% more likely to follow a specific diet than their baby boomer counterparts. But for many millennial shoppers, eating healthy doesn’t necessarily mean cutting calories or fat; instead, it’s a way of life rather than a “diet mentality.” These younger consumers spend considerable time researching where their food is coming from and shopping locally. They tend to choose all-natural foods over processed items. The main difference between baby boomers and millennials in terms of healthy eating is that younger consumers spent time reviewing the ingredients in foods, while the older generation was more focused on the nutritional value on the labels. It’s an interesting, yet important distinction for companies that are hoping to make connections with one of these customer segments over another. It’s specifically important in terms of how you position the product, and what benefits you highlight in your marketing and advertising.

A closer look at the buying behaviors of millennials and baby boomers reveals a few key differences. While the way they are shopping may be somewhat similar, the motivating factors behind what they’re buying tend to be different. As a whole, millennial consumers are more likely to purchase unique or exotic flavors while shopping. They also tend to be more aware of certain causes than their baby boomer counterparts. Behaviors were also different when it came to healthy eating. Millennials were more focused on purchasing local, raw, and natural products than older consumers, whereas baby boomers were more concerned with reading nutritional content on labels. The key takeaway for brands is two-fold. First, it’s important to dig beyond the data to get to the specific motivational factors that drive a purchase. Second, it’s also key to test concepts with different market segments to understand how new flavors or products will perform with unique segments of the market.