The graying of America: Green for fresh produce?

06/29/2011 06:07:00 AM
Tom Karst

How will the “aging of America” change the way food is sold and fresh produce is marketed? The answer to that question is perhaps hard to decipher, but clearly the numbers relating to America’s demographic changes are coming into sharp relief.

One just-released report is chock full of observations about the diverse facts relating to the aging of the Baby Boom generation.Called the “The Uneven Aging and "Younging" of America: State and Metropolitan Trends in the 2010 Census,"  the report describes a growing divide between generations.

Here are some excerpts from the report summary:

 America is beginning to show its age as the baby boom generation advances toward full-fledged senior-hood. But the pace of this aging will vary widely across the national landscape due to noticeable geographic shifts in the younger population, with implications for health care, transportation, and housing, and possible impacts upon our ability to forge societal consensus.

An analysis of data from the 1990, 2000, and 2010 decennial censuses reveals that:

Due to baby boomers “aging in place,” the population age 45 and over grew 18 times as fast as the population under age 45 between 2000 and 2010. All states and metropolitan areas are showing noticeable growth in their older and “advanced middle age” populations which, for the first time, comprise a majority of the nation’s voting-age population.

 Although all parts of the nation are aging, there is a growing divide between areas that are experiencing gains or losses in their younger populations. In 28 of the 50 states, and 36 of the 100 largest metro areas, the population below age 45 declined from 2000 to 2010. Yet in 29 metro areas, including Las Vegas, Orlando, Houston, and Atlanta, the under-45 population grew by at least 10 percent over the decade.

Areas experiencing the fastest senior (age 65+) growth are located in the Sun Belt, while areas with the highest concentrations of seniors are located primarily in Florida, the Northeast, and the Midwest. Yet baby boom generation “pre-seniors,” now just turning 65, are growing rapidly in all areas of the country due to aging in place. College towns such as Austin, Raleigh, Provo, and Madison are among those where pre-seniors are growing fastest.

Suburbs are aging more rapidly than cities with higher growth rates for their age-45-and-above populations and larger shares of seniors. People age 45 and older represent 40 percent of suburban residents, compared to 35 percent of city residents.

Metropolitan suburbs differ sharply in the degree to which they are attracting young adults and children. The suburbs of 34 metropolitan areas, mostly in the Northeast and Midwest, registered declines in their child and under-45 populations in the 2000s, leaving high concentrations of “advanced middle aged” and older residents. An even larger number of cities experienced losses in these younger populations.

 

More from the report:

 In some ways, current senior growth is just the lull before the storm. The next wave of senior growth will literally explode as the leading edge of baby boomers, who increased the age 55–64 population by 50 percent last decade, begin turning age 65 this decade. Because aging in place is the primary component of senior growth, we can assume that those areas where age 55-64 “pre-senior” growth was greatest in 2000–2010, will likely show large senior growth in the decade ahead.

Not unexpectedly, Sun Belt areas are among the fastest gainers of pre-seniors. Led by Austin’s pre-senior growth rate of 110 percent, metro areas in Texas, the Southeast, and the West exhibit the fastest pre-senior growth. Many of these areas are also college towns, including Austin, Raleigh, Provo, Colorado Springs, and Madison. These and other gainers further down the list such as Atlanta, Charlotte, Phoenix, and Dallas possess knowledge-based and diversified economies that attracted many baby-boom migrants in the past few decades whoare now poised to age in place.

 

Although we who are getting older like to say 50 is the new 30, 60 is the new 40, etc., the hard numbers are what they are. What does it mean for produce marketers? Fruits and vegetables that have function or perceived utility to preserve our health (blueberries!) will do well in coming years, no doubt.

A side note: one produce operator I recently talked to said that blueberries would be the number one produce item in the retail produce department if the fruit was available year-round.

Another positive: generally speaking, don't seniors eat more fruits and vegetables than their younger cohorts? Yet an older population may shun certain food (sprouts?)  if they feel their health could be compromised by food safety risks.

Considering our economy's recent trajectory, expect many seniors to frequent hard discount retailers like Aldi.

Of course, planners with supermarket will study the various metropolitan regions and decide to invest and divest in markets based on surging and ebbing populations. 

I wonder if home delivery of produce, particularly in regions with high concentrations of seniors, will find wings.

Readers, what are your thoughts about how the “aging of America” will affect your business?



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