Outside Insights | February 2017 | By Guest Author

Can Baby Boomers Save the Fast-Food Industry?

The 50-plus demographic is a powerful group whose choices can have a big impact on a brand’s bottom line.
While younger diners and millennials remain a force in the industry, older consumers and those with strong family dynamics are key, especially when it comes to the drive-thru. Thinkstock

Iconic fast food chain McDonald’s recently announced that its U.S. sales fell 1.3 percent at established locations from October through the end of 2016. As it tries to right the ship, it acknowledges increased competition and a need for different menu items.
 
Similarly, Taco Bell—the same fast-food brand famous for Chalupas, Dorito Locos, and other meaty, cheesy munchies—started the new year by announcing it will reduce sodium and do away with extra-large sodas in an effort to make its menu healthier.
 
The move couldn’t come at a better time for reaching consumers 50-years-old and above, who are more likely than ever to be the ones behind the wheel at the drive-thru.
 
Sixty-two percent of all fast-food and drive-in restaurant visits over the next 10 years will come from people 50 or older, according to MRI research from spring 2016. That will mean an additional 1.4 billion visits by 50-plus consumers compared with an increase of just 875 million among those ages 18 to 49.
 
This is big news for the fast-food industry. The 50-plus demographic is a powerful consumer group whose choices can have a big impact on a brand’s bottom line. So what can marketers learn from this development in the fast-food sector? Here are three key 50-plus consumer attributes: 
 
They Want to Save Time with Quick Service
 
People over 50 are reinventing life’s “golden years” as a time of possibility. They stay active, exercise, volunteer, and travel, all of which lead to needing quick meals that fit into their busy lives.
 
With active lifestyles and longer careers, their spending no longer is reduced as they age. In fact, the 50-plus demographic now accounts for 51 percent of all consumer spending. Thanks to being healthier and living longer, this group will influence purchasing far beyond the age at which consumers have traditionally fallen off marketers’ radar.
 
The 50-Plus Demo Demands Healthy Choices
 
The percentage of gym members age 50-plus has doubled from 15 percent to 32 percent since Boomers started turning 50. One out of every three people at the beach is over 50. Fitness-minded Boomers are not going to offset that hard work with a calorie- and sodium-laden binge-fest. Marketers who provide fast solutions for healthy meals will win 50-plus business.
 
They Prioritize Time with Their Grandchildren
 
Today’s Boomers take on a whole new role as “enhanced grandparents” who are involved in their grandchildren’s daily lives. They cheer on the sidelines at sports games, applaud during school concerts and are just as likely as mom and dad to take grandchildren places with their friends. Who likes to stop off for lunch more than a kid? If the food options are there for Boomers along with Happy Meals, everyone wins. Marketers who can win over grandparents will gain their families, too.
 
What’s Next?
 
As McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and other quick-service companies aim to improve their bottom lines, the good news is targeting 50-plus consumers with customized offerings and messaging offers incremental growth opportunities in today’s challenging marketplace.

Patricia Lippe Davis' mass media and advertising insights are drawn from strategic and creative marketing positions at the top three out of five circulation magazines, including Hearst's Good Housekeeping, Reader's Digest, Time Inc, and the New York Times Co. As VP of Marketing for AARP Media Sales, Patricia combines her mass market knowledge with her personal experience as a boomer to lead the advertising trade marketing for AARP's publications, digital, and broadcast sales.

Comments

If I was consulting I'd have to charge a lot of money for this idea, but I'm going to throw it out there:
The QSR marketplace is so varied, it seems impossible for any particular chain to come up with the "Next Big Thing" with a top-down approach. Why not try bottom up? Give every franchisee the freedom to create a "Local Special". Every kitchen in the chain would thereby become a test kitchen with direct feedback from customers. If a particular Local Special sold enough, it could be forwarded to Corporate for evaluation for a wider launch.

Add new comment