While the Millennial Generation has now surpassed the Boomer Generation in sheer numbers, boomers are still a force to be reckoned with, as marketing executives admit. The entire country is slowly but surely shifting its eating habits as people are embracing healthier choices (however they define that) and more organic products. This has some big brand companies in a tizzy. After decades of ruling the roost as boomers grew up with them, some of their products are now in danger of disappearing altogether. Newer generations are eschewing the big brands in favor of smaller, more innovative companies with products that speak to their tastes.
Now word comes that unless intervention is undertaken, Campbell’s Soup is on the endangered species list. More than likely there wasn’t a boomer household anywhere that didn’t keep a few cans of Campbell’s soup in their pantry; tomato, chicken noodle and mushroom were only three of the many super-popular choices. Mothers of boomers relied on Campbell’s soups to use in their family recipes, from tomato soup on a meat loaf; to the big daddy tradition-king of them all, cream of mushroom soup, green bean and fried onions Thanksgiving casserole; and beyond. In a pinch, especially when moms headed back into the workforce in the late sixties and early seventies, Campbell’s Soup was a quick and very economical way to feed a growing family.
Campbell’s, recognizing the needs of growing boomer families, advertised their wholesome taste with a popular, decades-long “M-m-m-m Good!” ad campaign that made it a household name. Boomers’ moms loved the convenience of the can and versatility of the product. No one was watching the sodium content at the time. Nowadays, phrases like “salt in a can” have been used to describe the very tomato soup that many a boomer gladly consumed with a grilled cheese sandwich.
Cereal is another boomer staple that is endangered. Sales of cereal have been steadily dropping for twenty years. True, we were served up a heaping helping of sugar in many of the most popular brands, but there were others, such as Cheerios, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Rice Krispies, that would actually fit well in the less-sugar-and-salt society we are becoming — if Gen Xers and Millennials were interested in cereal, that is. They do not share the same level of attachment that boomers did to their morning food ritual. They prefer breakfast sandwiches, smoothies and yogurt. When they do consume cereal, it is more often than not whole grain, organic granolas or hot cereals.
Some companies, like Hormel, are looking to replace the negative “big brand” label imposed by later generations by acquiring younger, more nimble companies. Others, such as General Mills, have stated they aren’t ready to give up on the boomer market just yet. Nearly half of all boomers say the brands they knew as kids are still among their favorites. In General Mills’ case, Honey Nut Cheerios has been a growing product for the company, both among boomers and younger consumers. You will see the company’s two-pronged approach to this multi-generational marketing in their current commercials. One line talks about keeping boomer hearts healthy with Cheerios while the other drops the touch-of-honey taste theme for Honey Nut Cheerios.
Kellogg’s, a ubiquitous cereal brand for boomers, is also reinvesting in the boomer market and is predicting an increase in cereal sales this year. Boomers could hardly envision a day when they would see Special K — the brand many boomer mothers chose as a diet aid — now having a line containing quinoa.
Others, like Pillsbury, Green Giant and even “late-comers” like Häagen-Dasz, are working to retool their products for America’s changing tastes, with an eye on keeping their share of the boomer market intact.
How all this will work out is not at all certain. We may see a day, soon, when products we loved as kids will no longer be available. We saw that happening with Twinkies recently, destined for the history bins until a smaller company decided to buy the rights and keep it going. What is certain is that today’s generations do not share the same likes as our boomer generation; nor do they share the brand loyalty we picked up from our parents, and, for a good many of us, kept going with our families.
Are you still loyal to the brands you enjoyed as kids, boomers? Do you still buy Campbell’s soup?