Generation X boasts less spending power and smaller numbers than boomers or millennials, but the Technomic Inc. Generational Consumer Trend Report points out that Generation Xers are in their prime working years and, along with boomers, possess the highest median household income. And according to Flavor & The Menu, Gen X is less concerned about finances when eating out than any other generation. Another reason to entice Gen X diners is that they’re typically the head of family, influencing and financing eating habits of a burgeoning group called Generation Z.
Balance is the Name of the Game
Think of Gen X as the group that bridges the flavor gap between millennials and boomers. They like comfort food and they like familiar flavors, Technomic reports, but they also like a bit of adventure. While millennials have helped the global mash-up thrive, Gen X keeps the fire going for safe culinary adventures. A millennial might like the more adventurous miso-glazed salmon, for instance, while a Gen Xer might gravitate to a more-familiar ginger-honey glazed salmon. Think of them as tandem jumpers rather than free-fallers.
More Gen Xers than any other generation measured by Technomic prefer to order pizza, burgers, Mexican fare, and Mediterranean cuisine, although they favor pizza and burgers over all other types of food. Those are pretty safe choices and fall in line with what we know about Gen X. Interestingly, Datassential measured the success of limited-time offers among Gen X diners using SCORES, a database service that tests promotions, LTOs, and new menu items with a nationally representative sample of consumers to see what’s resonating and what isn’t. Slow-roasted pot roast, bacon-ranch cheeseburgers, and hand-breaded chicken tenders scored at the top for purchase intent. Those findings reflect a Gen X flavor preference in comfort foods hitched to a yearning for authenticity and a touch of adventure. The lowest scoring LTOs for this demographic were more adventurous items like horchata, edamame, and lentil-quinoa burgers.
Gen X Flavor Cues
Technomic reports that “fresh” callouts resonate with Gen Xers more than other descriptors, and a larger proportion of this group is more likely to purchase premium items. In fact, fresh is such a dearly held value that it boasts the greatest impact on Gen X consumers’ away-from-home food or beverage purchases. Almost twice as many Gen Xers say they are willing to pay extra for fresh foods and beverages than for most other descriptors measured, Technomic says. That presents opportunity for foodservice operators in menuing premium dishes for this group of diners.
Other terms that appeal to Gen Xers include “authentic,” “homemade,” and “organic.” These are all on-trend menu cues in foodservice today. Diners, particularly Gen Xers and millennials, want to know that someone is crafting their food in the back of house.
Don’t Overlook Beverages
Fountain beverages, that wonderful reservoir of restaurant profit, is a go-to choice for Gen Xers. Technomic reports that not only is it their preferred beverage, they prefer this beverage more than any other generation measured.
In today’s foodservice environment, where guests—no matter the generation—look for a customized, unique experience, upping the beverage program helps restaurants stay competitive. Look to craft or housemade sodas as a chance to deliver the fizz Gen Xers love, but elevated to a premium, fun, and distinct choice. A simple base of seltzer or mineral water can be flavored with syrups, purées, or juices, then sweetened with honey, cane sugar, or agave nectar. Flourishes can include fresh herbs, fruit, or spices, and garnishes can dazzle with sugared rims or citrus zest.
Technomic also reports that Gen X women prefer beverages with a healthy positioning such as hot tea, bottled water, and smoothies, as well as sweet beverages such as specialty coffee, hot chocolate, and lemonade. These beverages offer a great platform for innovation. For an on-trend smoothie menu that appeals to this generation, consider blending vegetables like kale and spinach into a sweeter mix of blueberry and pineapple. Teas should include a variety of options from the familiar Earl Grey to the more adventurous matcha tea. And lemonade, a favorite thirst-quencher for this generation, can get a modern makeover with an infusion of strawberry or guava purée, or maybe a beautiful garnish of a grilled lemon slice.
Datassential tells us that 59 percent of Gen Xers consumed alcohol in the past week. Their top drinks of choice? Beer came in at number-one, followed by cocktails, red wine, and white wine. Certainly, craft cocktails are enjoying the spotlight right now, so entice Gen Xers with classic and modern drinks that feature artisanal touches like housemade simple syrups, bitters, drinking vinegars, and fruit purées.
Feel-Good, Functional Foods
Functionality appeals to Gen Xers, millennials, and boomers. They all look for foods and ingredients that deliver health benefits like more energy and better sleep. An easy way into this sustaining trend is featuring superfoods and superfruits in smoothies, salads, and bowl builds. Ingredients to include are blueberries, kale, quinoa, goji berries, and watermelon.
The important element here is the shift in healthy eating away from sacrifice. Diners don’t want to know what something is missing—they want to hear about the positives. They want to feel good about their choices. So, it’s no longer a low-fat and low-sodium platter with a heart icon next to it. Now, it’s a dish boasting the functional, health-promoting ingredients that taste delicious.
Creative takes on familiar dishes, cues of authenticity, and a focus on positives are the keys to winning over Generation X.