Acknowledging the “bridge” demographic

The food and beverage industry – both foodservice and retail – has gone to great lengths to appeal to millennials and is now focusing on the next up and coming demographic with buying power, Gen Z consumers. But what about Generation X?

Gen X is often called the “bridge” generation because it’s the bridge between the two largest demographic groups: millennials, currently the largest demo group with the most influential buying power, and baby boomers, which formerly held that prestigious title. Gen X is frequently overlooked because it is the smallest demo group, but its buying power should not be disregarded.

So, who is Gen X? Born between 1966 and 1982, “Gen Xers” – my generation – are ages 37 to 53. We are the original “latch key” kids and the MTV generation. Movies like The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, and Some Kind of Wonderful epitomized our 1980s teenage angst. The most famous Gen Xers are probably the cast of Friends.

According to Datassential (using statistics from Vision Critical; Met Life; Forrester Research; US Department of Labor; Pew Research Center), Generation X (in the US):

  • represents 65 million consumers – making them a smaller generation than other age groups, but one that is currently in their peak income earning years;
  • currently makes up 31% of the total income in the US, even though they comprise only 25% of the population;
  • spends more on food than any other generation – per person, $3,864 annually on eating out and $4,882 on food at home.

A recent study from Datassential on Generation X reveals several key food-related eating and buying habits by Gen Xers that behoove the coffee and tea industries. For example, Gen Xers generally are somewhat careful about what they eat (few follow a strict diet) but are willing to go out of their way to get something they really want to eat (I absolutely agree). The Chicago, Illinois-based food market research firm reports that these consumers may not be “food passionate” in general (though many are self-proclaimed “foodies,” wine aficionados and coffee connoisseurs), but they return for items they love — indicating that Gen Xers may be loyal if you offer items they want. (Coffeehouses and tea shops take note.)

Gen X consumers are more likely to skip breakfast entirely than to purchase breakfast away-from-home in a typical week. Datassential finds that these consumers spend more money on food than the overall population does, but they may be time-strapped since they are more likely to be working full-time, homeowners and raising children (although many are or are becoming empty-nesters with children in college or post college.)

The average Gen X consumer visits two stores to buy groceries in a typical week (if they like a specific coffee or tea brand, they are inclined to make the extra effort to purchase it). The study also reveals that while most Gen Xers have never had groceries delivered, over one-third of respondents are interested in using grocery delivery services. (I believe this depends on where they live — urban Gen Xers are more likely to have tried grocery delivery than those living in the suburbs.) Grocery delivery usage has been increasing overall as delivery technology improves. As Gen X consumers see the value, time savings, and convenience of grocery delivery, they may be inclined to increase usage.

The study further finds that Gen Xers like trying new foods and beverages more so than the population. They are also more likely than the population to try a food or beverage simply because they think it sounds interesting, even if they aren’t sure it will taste good. (Again, coffeehouses and tea shops take note.)

Gen Xers are generally willing to somewhat go out of their way to go to a place they love to dine out. If they have a positive experience when dining out and they are likely to seek out that destination again. (Although I can’t speak for all Gen Xers, I agree with this finding.). According to the study, 86% of respondents last away-from-home venue was a place they have been to before. So, build a relationship with Gen X consumers and they will likely become regular/repeat customers. This highlights the importance of “getting on the radar” when it comes to being a dining destination. Thus, coffeehouses could likely increase Gen X patronage beyond coffee purchases by either providing quality tea programs for non-coffee drinkers or investing in offering premium food options (such as Australian coffeehouse chains Proud Mary, Bluestone Lane and Citizens of Chelsea, which have full dining menus for breakfast and lunch, not just grab and go items). If they like the coffee or tea, why wouldn’t consumers try the food?

Additionally, Datassential finds that Gen Xers show higher interest in full “meal deals” at restaurants so coffeehouse and tea shops offering loyalty programs would benefit. (But who doesn’t like to feel they are getting a lot for their money?)

While the Datassential study focused on US respondents only, the findings can be applied to Gen X consumers beyond the US. So, Gen X may be small, but its buying power is mighty enough to be acknowledged and tapped into — at least by coffee and tea brands.

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