Meeting the changing needs of boomers and millennials


  • Baby Boomers (50+), Canada’s fastest growing demographic, are demanding healthier food options
  • Millennials are looking for food diversity and corporate transparency in food production
  • Ethnic diversity is bringing new foods and crops to Canada while also increasing demand for lamb and goat meat

Canadian communities are changing. The people you meet on the street or in the grocery store are likely to be older, more connected, and more likely than ever to be new arrivals to Canada. As consumer demographics shift, so do food preferences and the demands on producers and processors to meet their changing needs.

The boomer bulge

According to Statistics Canada, seniors are the fastest growing proportion of the Canadian population. The over-65 age group is increasing four times faster than the population at large, and will continue to grow as the baby boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1965) move into their senior years.

The increasing emphasis on trust and transparency also marks an opportunity for Canadian producers to strengthen their presence in the domestic market.

“We have a bulge of boomers, and that has driven some of the things we’ve seen in the marketplace,” says Dr. John Cranfield, a professor in Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of Guelph. “They’re getting older, are expected to live longer and have concerns about quality of life as they change.”

The boomer quest for health and wellness is driving the trend toward functional foods, and processors and retailers are responding.

“The boomers look at food as medicine, in a way. They’re looking for less processed food, which is why we’re starting to see growth in areas like the yogurt section, and fermented foods like kefir and kombucha,” says Jo-Ann McArthur, CEO of Nourish Food Marketing, a marketing agency specializing in food. “The trend is to natural, simpler, less processed foods.”

Millennial values

Balancing the aging boomers is the rise of the millennials, people born between 1981 and 2000.

“Millennials have a different relationship with food. They want something that’s unique, authentic, stands out and gives them an experience,” Cranfield says.

While both groups are 27 per cent of the Canadian population today, millennials are growing into their consumer power as the boomers decline. They’re typically well-educated, well-travelled, and very connected through social media networks. They also have different values that influence their food choices.

“Millennials are very different from their parents and grandparents, in that they have a huge mistrust of corporate food,” McArthur says. “To our parents, corporations meant bigger, more trustworthy, higher quality. Millennials see big as bad and don’t trust those companies the same way. For them ‘made’ matters – they want to know who made their food, where it was made and what it was made with.”

Real food ingredients, simple ingredient lists, local foods and craft products are all trends McArthur associates with the rise of the millennials. This is a generation with a deep appreciation for food, but few of them have any real skill in the kitchen or working knowledge of agriculture. They’re also the generation most engaged with social media.

“Social media is pushing food trends and transparency. The power has shifted from the manufacturer to the consumer – you have to be transparent,” McArthur says.

She adds that interest in issues like animal welfare is growing, largely because of social media.

Ethnic diversity

While age demographics are shifting food preferences, maintaining markets and shaping new opportunities relies on a strong consumer base. As the birth rate continues to decline, immigration becomes increasingly important. According to Statistics Canada, over 60 per cent of growth is currently attributed to new Canadians.

“When people migrate, they bring with them their cuisine, traditions and types of food, and markets evolve around that,” Cranfield says. “We see new foods become available, and new crops to Canada.”

Grocery retailers have seen the rise of global cuisine in prepared foods, as well as increasingly diverse produce such as bok choy and okra. Demand for goat and lamb meat has also increased, outstripping Canadian production and processing capacity.  

According to McArthur, the fastest growing demographic in Canada today is the Muslim consumer, expanding at a rate of 11 to 13 per cent annually.

“This is a market that is totally underserviced. People think of the halal market mostly as meat, but it goes beyond that,” McArthur explains. “Gelatin is used in a number of products – candies, gummies, marshmallows, all the way through to cosmetics – and that’s not halal.”

New reality, new opportunities

Food demand is more complicated than ever, but that also opens opportunities for producers.

“The opportunities that emerge will come about because there isn’t one consumer, there are a variety,” Cranfield says. “We’re seeing the rise of smaller segments of consumers, so being alert to those opportunities and willing to take on the marketing perspective is important.”

The increasing emphasis on trust and transparency also marks an opportunity for Canadian producers to strengthen their presence in the domestic market.

“If I walk through the supermarket these days, local products are at the front of the store. Retailers are using ‘local’ to signal quality,” McArthur says. “People want to support their neighbours, and local is more important than ever.”

From an AgriSuccess article (Special Edition 2017) by Tamara Leigh

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