Seniors May Retire, But Their Tastebuds Don’t

May 18, 2010

A leather-clad, silver-haired gentleman stares out from a Florida retirement community marketing mailer.

A leather-clad, silver-haired gentleman stares out from a Florida retirement community marketing mailer. It reads, “Where it’s cool to be in the 70s.” Yes, the face and taste buds of retirement are a-changing. 

Baby Boomers that shook up the establishment in the 60s and 70s are rattling the traditional retirement profile – changing terms such as old folks’ homes to retirement communities and pushing menu offerings from institutional meals to better quality dining.

No longer will the simple fare of yesteryear be offered up in boring menus – the new face of retirement means on demand dining; gourmet coffee choices; and wine tastings. sees this as an opportunity for both CPG and foodservice companies to focus on global offerings and healthy alternatives in easy-to-prepare food service sizes. Additionally, this trend points toward growth at retail for gourmet-style grab-and-go prepared food selections designed for two-person and single family households. Innovative frozen selections for singles pose another potential growth market for both grocers and manufacturers.

Whether it’s Wauwatosa, WI where Harwood Place Retirement Community’s executive chef Justin Johnson began revamping the dining program two years ago to reflect current culinary trends or Seattle, WA where Mirabella’s Food & Beverage director is sourcing local ingredients and upscale brands to appease his audience, the retirement community dining room has changed.

Chefs are left to craft new diverse, creative seasonal menus - balanced meals made from scratch with fresh ingredients – to meet the new demands of retiring Boomers. And while there are still the meat-and-potato entrees in demand, the balance is definitely shifting. 

“We use Seattle’s Best Coffee versus something middle of the road,” Terry Jones said in an interview with “[Residents] truly want upper-end products.”

Jones, Mirabella’s Food & Beverage Director, continued, “The clientele is definitely more challenging [today]. They want more choice and value. They’re also interested in newer items and variety in the selections.”

The biggest challenge Jones says they face in Mirabella’s three kitchens is tending to the two diverse generations who now reside in these communities. 

“We still have one generation that wants the meat and potatoes and those that want healthy, creative choices,” he said. 

The new culinary scene goes hand-in-hand with how retirement communities are marketing themselves these days. In order to attract Baby Boomers who would never accept placement at an “old folks' home,” these new lifestyle communities promote futures that are “bright, vibrant, and exciting.”

Mirabella – which offers everything from penthouse dining to wine tastings – markets itself as “the retirement community of the future, for residents of the future.” 

Margaret Wylde, president and chief executive of research firm ProMatura Group, told that the changing focus on upscale dining options began in the early 1990s with companies such as Classic Residence by Hyatt. In 2005, the company opened its Palo Alto, Calif. location. Residents here didn’t choose to move because of pushy children or poor health; instead they’re attracted to the gourmet food, attentive service and access to Stanford University programs.

Wylde places rough estimates on independent living and assisted living properties across the United States at about 25,000. Active adult communities number around 1,200 with continued growth on luxury communities. She explained that retirees place a high priority on dining options when selecting where to move, concluding that communities, which recognize the importance of good dining experiences, are the most successful.