Canadian Pizza Magazine

Marketing Insights: Acting our Age

Michelle Brisebois   

Features Business and Operations Marketing

Acting our Age

Marketers love to lump consumers into groups. It’s
easier to track changes and to detect any shifts in behavior that
provide clues to a new trend.

Marketers love to lump consumers into groups. It’s easier to track changes and to detect any shifts in behavior that provide clues to a new trend.

One of our favourite ways to categorize people is by age because we can predict that consumers will engage in certain behaviors over the course of their lifetime.

Traditionally, older people haven’t been huge consumers of pizza. Our focus has been on the youth market – college kids, busy families. Imagine our collective surprise to see that pizza consumption is increasing among Canadians over the age of fifty-five.


Pizza consumption overall is decreasing a bit and perhaps it’s because the marketing of pizza hasn’t exactly moved with the aging population. Canadians are getting older and, thanks to the post-World War II Baby Boom, most of us are over the age of 40. Yet, pizza is still largely seen as cheap, unhealthy belly filler.

Quite frankly, we just don’t picture someone in their 60s as a typical pizza consumer. Exactly what does someone in their 60s look like? Grey hair? Slowing down? Can you picture Mick Jagger – aged sixty-two – eating pizza? I can. Although Mick hardly represents a typical senior citizen, he does represent a generational attitude; a younger, trendier senior, and that could be very good news for the pizza industry – if we position the product correctly.

People continue the same habits and behaviors throughout their lifetime. If a generation grows up eating a certain food, then chances are it will be something they continue to consume through all age bands. Pizza is a phenomenon of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Today’s older Canadian would have consumed pizza in their youth, and therefore it stands to reason that we’re seeing more people consume pizza in their later years because this is the first generation of seniors that ate pizza growing up.

The other reason we’re seeing this trend is because there are just so many baby boomers proportionally to other groups. Canadians between the ages of 39 and 58 make up 31.6 per cent of the population. That’s a huge bubble of folks clustered fairly close together in age. Of this 31.6 per cent, 18.6 per cent are only ten years apart in age (39 – 49 years).
According to NPD Group / NPD CREST Canada, the largest growth in share of pizza occasions has been in the age 50 – 64 group. In 1995, nine per cent of eating occasions where pizza was consumed were attributed to those aged 50 – 64. By 2005, that number had risen to 15 per cent. It’s easy to justify this change since there are more people shifting into this demographic. What’s curious though, is that the same report shows the number of pizza occasions attributed to those aged 13-17 has decreased very slightly from eight per cent in 1995 to seven per cent in 2005.

Since a large number of Echo Boomers (children of the baby boomers) are shifting into this age band, one would expect to see a similar but less dramatic increase in pizza consumption. But we don’t. This may add support to the argument that once a generation establishes a behavior (like eating pizza), it continues that behavior throughout its lifecycle.

Echo Boomers were raised on hamburgers and Happy Meals. They’ve continued to consume sandwich type entrees into their teenage years, but the Baby Boomers are still loyal to pizza. The problem it seems is that pizza hasn’t been that loyal to the Baby Boomers.

As people age, they have more time and disposable income. A person in their 50s and 60s will choose food items based on taste and freshness, with health and weight control also high on the priority list. Unhampered by small children that make dining out difficult, people tend to frequent full service restaurants (FSR) instead of QSR (quick serve restaurants).

NPD Group / NPD CREST Canada also reports that by age 65, 40 per cent of eater occasions are held at full serve restaurants with 48 per cent occurring at quick serve establishments. Compare this to 18 -34 year olds with 20 per cent eater occasions at FSR and 72 per cent at QSR, and you can see the pizza opportunity does shift a bit towards full service establishments with an aging population. Keep in mind however that although more boomer eater occasions are happening at FSR, almost half of eater occasions enjoyed by seniors are still in the quick service operations.

It’s also important to note that QSR is the only channel where the cheque
average is rising. NPD Group / NPD CREST Canada confirms that the average supper cheque in QSR currently sits at $6.24 which is a healthy five per cent increase over last year. Family mid-scale restaurants and casual dining operations currently show a cheque average that is flat compared to last year. People are willing to pay more for a quality product.

It would appear as though those operators selling pizza should look at their menu offering and make sure their pizzas are properly positioned to target the older Canadian. A 16-inch, gooey, meat-laden pie won’t appeal to their finer tastes and deep price-cutting and couponing probably won’t get them in the door.

Don’t write off consumers in their later years. This group still represents a huge number of patrons and they will probably be around longer than previous senior cohorts. After all, trend-watchers are declaring “sixty is the new forty.”  I guess, “time is on their side.”•

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