The graying of America and the vast impact on the fabric of our society has been a growing topic of conversation since well before the first Baby Boomers began ringing in their 65th birthdays in 2011. The Boomers have kept our industry on our toes throughout their foodservice journeys. The first generation to be regular restaurant-goers from a young age, more educated, better-traveled and more broadly exposed to different cuisine types than their predecessors, drivers of the foodie movement…they have continually compelled us to up our game.

Expectations: Aging Boomers Will Drive Senior Living Foodservice to Exciting New Heights

We’ve been preparing for the aging of these patrons for some time. Foodservice operators are now adept at delivering bold flavors that can resonate even with aging taste buds, and healthy options extend well beyond the early basics of light, heart-healthy, etc. We have also played a key role in driving how the Senior Living industry has been continually redefining the concept of senior care with greater emphasis on hospitality and customer service. Examples abound of facilities injecting restaurant influences into their operations, from bistros to coffeeshops to wine bars and social activities like tastings and cooking classes.

Current Realities: Senior Living Continues to Navigate Difficulties

Pre-pandemic, we spent more than a decade imagining a very different climate for Senior Living than the reality we currently face. Ongoing innovation has elevated the segment’s appeal and paved the way for expanded foodservice opportunity. And the demographic boon is here. The senior population will soon DOUBLE.

But like the rest of the industry, the segment is building back from substantial losses wrought by Covid-19. With a client base uniquely vulnerable to illness and the need to implement distancing and other costly safety measures, Senior Living was among the foodservice industry’s most severely impacted by the pandemic due to falling occupancy and rising costs.

So here we are in 2023. Occupancy trends are returning to normal, with six consecutive quarters of gains. Yet inflation and staffing challenges stemming from the “Great Resignation” continue to challenge these operators as they execute returns to normalcy. Like the foodservice industry as a whole, Senior Living will remain in recovery mode in the near term.

The Bottom Line: Eyes on the Prize

Foodservice IP anticipates that foodservice sales in Senior Living will shift back to growth mode by 2026. In the meantime, it is important to remember that this segment remains one of the most attractive long-term opportunities in our battered industry. Unlike restaurants, there is obvious need for expansion. More housing is desperately needed to accommodate our aging population. As well as some different approaches. There is growing awareness that as Boomers age, there will be greater need for the amenity-rich facilities that suit the more affluent, but also concepts that address the needs of a middle market that requires more value-focused housing solutions that still deliver on Boomers’ high expectations.

Our industry has a very valuable role to play as Senior Living operators navigate the challenges of recovery while serving their discerning Boomer residents. With that in mind, our latest research on the segment was designed to capture the current environment.

Some important considerations:

  • Foodservice continues to be a major influencer when people choose a Senior Living facility; 76% of operators agreed that residents chose their particular facility because of the foodservice program.
  • These operators need to be creative not only to meet the higher culinary expectations of their residents, but in the current environment, to cope with supply-chain issues and higher costs. All while adhering to dietary guidelines.
  • Solutions that allow them to efficiently offer on-demand foodservice have appeal – but thinking needs to extend beyond traditional vending options.

With more than two-thirds of our operator respondents indicating that they look to manufacturers for menu direction and recommendations, those who want to be future partners should come bearing insights and solutions around both current realities and on-trend possibilities.

To learn more about Foodservice IP’s January 2023 study Senior Living: Assessing the Opportunity, visit our Reports page.