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Age determines US eating habits more than any other factor, claims market researcher

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 14-Aug-2012
Last updated on 14-Aug-2012 at 16:49 GMT

Age is the single most important factor determining when and where Americans eat, according to a new report from market research organization Packaged Facts, which suggests ways that food companies can respond to shifting demographics and eating habits.

According to the report, titled “How We Eat: Retail and Foodservice Opportunities in When and Where America Eats”, mealtime habits in the United States have become increasingly diverse, in terms of location, dining companions, and time of the day – but age is often the determining factor in how underlying food principles of health, convenience, and variety are interpreted.

Despite the diversity of American mealtime tendencies, food industry players still have many opportunities to target a wide range of consumers,” the market researcher says.

But the generational make-up of the United States is changing, and tastes are changing too. As the population ages, food manufacturers will want to continue targeting the over-65s with foods and beverages that promote health and wellness, particularly considering the relative affluence of this group, the report says.  However, Generations X (defined in this report as those aged 30 to 44) and Y (also dubbed ‘Millennials’, or those under about 30) are on the cusp of taking overall US food trends in a new direction.

“These young adults have an aggressive mentality when it comes to their consumption tendencies. They want what they want, when they want it—this is after all the smartphone generation that expects everything to be readily at their fingertips,” the researcher says. “Over the next ten years, Millennials are expected to seize firm control of the direction industry players take when marketing food and beverage products.”

Among the trends pinpointed for these increasingly influential under-45s, the report highlights snacking between meals as an area of potential growth.

Packaged snacks growth

“Given the strength of the snacking propensity of Millennials and Gen Xers, Packaged Facts projects that US retail sales of packaged snacks will reach $76.8 billion by 2015. Annual growth rates are expected to edge up from 3.5% in 2011 to 4.0% by 2013, a rate that is expected to be sustained through 2015.”

The researcher adds that this desire for quick, convenient snack options means that younger adults tend to have poor eating habits, especially as opposed to older Americans, who snack much less often, and tend to choose healthier snacks when they do.

In addition, under-45s are more likely to consume a fourth meal late at night than other age groups, and this is likely to be a social eating occasion.

“A running theme throughout this report is the demise of the three-meals-daily format in favor of smaller more frequent meals that may or may not be supplemented with snacks,” the market researcher says, adding that some industry players are finding ways to include healthier options in their product portfolios to reach an increasingly health-conscious population.

“Yet even as concerns over obesity and obesity-related diseases rage in America, food industry players are still finding tremendous success reaching consumers by purveying nutritionally questionable foods,” it says, with some of the most prominent targets being those who tend to eat outside the traditional eating hours of about 6am to 10pm.  

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