Not to be ignored


Much has been written about the wants, needs and behaviors of baby boomers and millennials, thanks to the sheer size of those generations. In comparison, the smaller Generation X, defined by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation as Americans born between 1965 and 1979, receives far less attention. But the oft-dubbed "forgotten generation" certainly is worth pursuing from a store brand perspective.

A frugal mindset

As a group, "Gen-Xers" actually have much in common with millennials, explains Susan Viamari, Times & Trends editor for Chicago-based Information Resources Inc., including "many of the same penny-pinching, tech-savvy traits." But they are not as cash-strapped as millennials.

"Because they are older than millennials, they do have more established careers and families, plus more spending power," she explains.

The 1987 stock market crash and the recession that followed it played a role in shaping Gen-Xers' frugal behaviors, Viamari says.

"Many were left jobless and moved in with their parents. This somewhat bleak inheritance shaped their future financial attitudes and shopping behaviors much like the Great Recession has influenced millennials," she notes.

As a result, 35 percent of Gen-Xers buy brands that are on sale instead of their favored brands — similar to millennials (37 percent). In comparison, only 27 percent of baby boomers and 22 percent of seniors exhibit the same behavior, Viamari says. The percentage of Gen-Xers who buy store brands to save money also is similar to that of millennials (38 percent versus 41 percent) and significantly higher than that of baby boomers (30 percent) and seniors (29 percent).

And when it comes to meal-making, Gen-Xers are the most frugal of all the generations, she notes, with 41 percent choosing products to create more meals at the lowest possible cost — compared to 38 percent of millennials, 26 percent of baby boomers and just 2 percent of seniors.

Like many other shoppers, Gen-Xers want to save money on everything from restaurant visits to doctor and salon visits, Viamari says. Products that cost less but still help them live well in these areas, therefore, present a store brand opportunity.

"Even more affluent shoppers are dialing back," she adds. "In that regard, premium-tier private label solutions, whether they be food/beverage options or health and beauty solutions, are appealing to these shoppers."


Although some wants and needs are evident across the entire Gen-X segment, life stage and household composition are the more critical behavior influences here, notes Laurie Demeritt, CEO of The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash. Many Gen-Xers have children in the household, for example, and are struggling for solutions related to those children. As food shoppers, these consumers are looking for products they can give to their kids without any — or many — reservations.

"I think about store brands that are all-natural, with a lack of preservatives, lack of additives, lack of anything they would see as a sort of not-so-healthy food item," Demeritt says. "That certainly has a lot of appeal."

And although most Gen-Xers are focused on value, that doesn't necessarily mean they are seeking the lowest price when shopping for foods and beverages, she adds. Instead, they tend to gravitate toward products they view as all-natural or premium, at the best price — a positive for the store brand side.

And overall, Gen-Xers tend to feel somewhat forgotten by product marketers when it comes to solutions for their day-to-day health-related concerns, Demeritt notes. These health concerns are quality-of-life related, not necessarily tied to major diseases.

"They are things like stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, energy levels, things that you wouldn't necessarily go to the doctor for, you wouldn't take a prescription medicine for, you probably wouldn't even want to take an over-the-counter medication for," she says.

Here, retailers have an opportunity to provide store brand food and beverage solutions aimed at needs influenced by Gen-Xers' life stages that are not being met, Demeritt explains.

"Its not just about heart health or preventing cancer, but just those nagging things that you can help them solve," she adds.

Less brand-loyal than boomers

Looking beyond life stage, Gen-Xers tend to be less brand-loyal than baby boomers, Demeritt says, although they are more brand-loyal than millennials.

"I think there's sort of an interesting balance between the more brand-loyal edge that the boomers have and also looking for brands that provide some sort of discovery or exploration at some level, too," she says.

However, many Gen-Xers have young children in the household, so they also are trying to please everyone's taste, Demeritt says, which limits the ability to be as exploratory or as discovery-focused as millennials and baby boomers.

Whether they end up buying a name brand or a store brand, its also worth noting that Gen-Xers "do their homework" before entering a store, Viamari says. In fact, 62 percent of them make shopping lists; 41 percent review circulars; 41 percent use coupons; 14 percent use the Internet as a shopping-related tool; and 12 percent refer to a retailer's website. The generation's use of tools here is similar to millennials, she adds, but higher than both baby boomers and seniors.

And the willingness to do pre-shopping homework underscores another Gen X tendency: that toward lifetime learning. According to the spring 2013 edition of "The Generation X Report," based on findings from a long-term ongoing study of a subset of U.S. Gen-Xers by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, this generation has spent more time in formal education than its parents and has completed more baccalaureates and graduate degrees than preceding generations.

"But all of these achievements are a foundation for continuing cycles of work, continuing education, work and more education," the report states.

That said, Gen-Xers also highly value a work/life balance. They work to live, rather than live to work, numerous sources note. That reality could present an opportunity for retailers to develop and market time-saving and convenience-oriented store brand products that help Gen-Xers maximize their non-working hours.