The Changing Senior Dining Market

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					                    The Changing
                 Senior Dining Market
                                                         By Mitch Possinger

 Older Americans are living longer, healthier, and more active lives, and the senior care market is responding to
  these changes. Providing great food is an important way to enhance the lives of older people in care settings.

           hen it comes to the senior dining services market in
           America, there is nothing about it that is aging and
                                                                                “One-third of Americans
           declining. Older Americans are living longer,                         is over the age of 65.”
remaining active, staying healthy, and demanding more
options in how and where they live. In response to the new           comes looking for fulfillment. In a senior living community
demands of the senior living market, operators are “re-invent-       setting, dining services is a focal point for much that brings joy
ing” the market.                                                     and well-being.
    Until 20 years ago, senior living was all about nursing
homes – oft-feared facilities in which no one wanted to live         Putting “Life” into Lifestyle
and where no one wanted to visit. Then the market sensed a               Experts in senior living have come to realize that the busi-
need for communities in which healthier older adults could           ness model required to succeed in today’s market is not a
find joy in the company of others and freedom from the bur-          healthcare model; it’s not a hotel model; it is a hospitality/well-
dens of home ownership. Two new classes of senior communi-           ness hybrid model. While health care and attractive facilities
ties were developed: assisted living facilities and continuing       are key components, for residents to enjoy fulfilling lives, there
care retirement communities (CCRCs), and the market                  must be gracious hospitality built upon a platform of services
responded in force. Senior dining services have been riding          that address the critical aspects of well-living.
this exciting wave of change – and the pace is quickening.               This platform of services must address the five dimensions
    While skilled nursing facility food service is expected to       of well-living: emotional, physical, spiritual, social, and voca-
grow in 2006 by about 2.5 percent, CCRC food service is pro-         tional. As a department, dining services must work in a multi-
jected to grow by a whopping 7 percent (Technomic) – the             disciplinary way with other departments such as resident care,
largest of all non-commercial segments. There are mega-              activities, and marketing to provide opportunities for residents
demographic, lifestyle, and technological trends driving this        to fulfill their needs in these five areas. Examples of wellness-
growth. While the baby boomers are aging, the newest gener-          oriented services follow:
ation of senior dining services is being born today.                 Skilled Nursing and Assisted Living Facilities
                                                                       • Small 12-15 resident “communities” with their own
The Not-so-Silent “Silent Generation”                                      great rooms in which dining is restaurant-style with full
    If you spend time at your local shopping mall, you won’t be            table service;
surprised to hear that the graying of America is one of the most       • Cooking classes during which the community’s cook or
dramatic trends of this century. One-third of Americans is over            chef engages the residents in preparing part of the day’s
the age of 65. Just today alone – and every day – 5,000 more               menu;
of us reach the age of 65. By 2050, according to the U.S. Cen-         • Herb or vegetable gardens planted and nurtured by the
sus, there will be 4 million centenarians. Yes, these older adults         residents with help from the dining services staff;
may have certain things in common, but don’t be fooled into            • Beer brewing or winemaking by the residents with the
believing that they all think alike!                                       dining services director as the facilitator;
    The “Greatest Generation,” generally thought to be born            • Special religious meals to offer residents opportunities
between 1911 and 1924, lived and came of age through the                   to learn and worship such as Seders and Christmas din-
Depression and World War II. Members of this generation                    ners from around the world.
experienced shortages of work, food, and critical supplies. As
a group, they frown upon luxury and extravagance.                    Continuing Care Retirement Communities
    The majority of residents now moving into senior living            • Menus that highlight and feature fresh, natural foods
communities were born between 1925 and 1945; they are                     grown or produced by local farmers, growers, and
members of the “Silent Generation.” As a group, they are more             producers;
affluent, more worldly – and more demanding. While less self-          • New informal dining options in cafes, bistros, coffee-
absorbed than today’s “Baby Boomers” who are not yet set-                 houses, and ice cream parlors – while still providing a
tling in senior living communities, the “Silent Generation”               formal dining option;
                                                                                                           continued on page 12

May 2006                                                                                                                             11
The Changing Senior Dining Market
continued from page 11

     • Induction cooking carts to offer tableside and exhibi-      “Space Age” Dining Services
       tion cooking presentations;                                    At most new CCRCs, more than 70 percent of incoming
     • For residents who are actively working and volunteer-       residents are installing computers into their new homes. They
       ing, new curbside pickup, takeout and delivery services;    are computer-savvy and accustomed to utilizing computers as
     • Personal chef services for special in-home catered meals;   part of their activities of daily living. To respond to this trend,
     • “All-day dining” featuring dining options from 7:00         more and more CCRCs are:
       a.m. until 11:00 p.m.;                                         Offering on-line ordering for catering services;
     • A menu of smoothies, energy drinks, wraps, and salads          • Utilizing cashless payment systems to facilitate multi-
       for the fitness center;                                           ple dining plans and points of service;
     • “Call a dietitian” and “Call a chef” on-line and tele-         • Providing residents with universal cards that offer both
       phone helpline services to answer residents’ questions;           debit and credit features;
     • On-location culinary training for staff and residents to       • Posting daily, monthly, and special holiday menus
       build a real appreciation for great food.                         along with chef’s features on their Web sites for easy
   According to senior living community experts, one of the              resident access;
top two reasons a prospective resident chooses a particular           • Using waitstaff touchscreens to improve the speed and
CCRC to become his or her new home is the package of serv-               efficiency of dining room service.
ices offered. Dining services plays a leading role in this resi-      While the benefit of creating a “high-touch” or highly per-
dent services package.                                             sonalized relationship with residents can never be understated,

A resident enjoys a class called "Cooking With Chef Joe." The class is part of Cura Hospitality's "LivingLife" philosophy –
a commitment to nourishing both the body and spirit of seniors through programs and activities that are centered around food,
but address other aspects of overall wellness (intellectual, social, spiritual, vocational, physical, and emotional well-being).
In that particular class, residents were baking and decorating cookies to deliver to other seniors who were either in the
hospital or living at home alone during the holiday season. Chef Joe says, "Our goal is to brighten the day of seniors who
may not have loved ones with whom to share the holidays. Our residents are able to share their creativity, which gives
them a sense of self-worth, while enriching the lives of less fortunate seniors in the area."

12                                                                                                          DIETARY MANAGER
     “While skilled nursing facility
    food service is expected to grow
     in 2006 by about 2.5 percent,
     CCRC food service is projected
         to grow by a whopping
      7 percent – the largest of all
      non-commercial segments.”
dining services built upon a foundation of high-functioning
technology can improve residents’ well-being. Technology uti-
lized in dining services to improve the resident experience         Seniors enjoy fun food and fine food in the dining room.
through better food and service and expanded choices is a key
competitive advantage for a CCRC.

Creating the Future, Today
   Senior dining services in the future will only slightly
resemble what we know as senior dining services of today.
Being elderly used to mean being more than 65 years of age;
now it’s more than 85 years of age – and we’re living longer,
healthier lives.
   Technology will allow seniors to live at home longer than
ever – that’s where they want to stay – so dining services will
have to “travel.” No, not as “meals on wheels,” but as “gour-
met on the go.” Organic, natural, and local foods will become
mainstream menu offerings. Vegetarians will no longer be a
vocal minority, but an established customer segment. Environ-
mental awareness will be at an all-time high – and providers
will have no choice but to respond and comply.
   Voice-activated computers and robotics will occupy sen-
iors’ homes to provide assistance and social connectiveness
with family and friends. Three-dimensional videoconferencing           Learn More About the Senior
will allow seniors to hear about today’s menu “in person.”
   Pharmaceuticals will be used only for the most serious ill-         Dining Market
ness, while self healing will be sought through nature’s most             Want to find out more about the senior dining market
powerful foods. Food manufacturers and foodservice operators           and where it’s headed? Tune in to hear Mitch Possinger,
will be called to task and held accountable for marketing foods        president and founder of Cura Hospitality, discuss the
that are directly related to disease conditions.                       subject during the DMA Annual Meeting in Milwaukee.
   Savor the possibilities… to enhance the lives of seniors            His session, “The Senior Dining Market: It’s But a
around great food. Senior dining services is a hospitality indus-      Child,” is planned for Thursday, July 20.
try segment that is poised for aggressive growth in jobs, serv-           Senior living communities today are not your grand-
ice variety, menu offerings, and innovation. Its future is being       mother’s nursing home! They’re varied, vibrant, and
created today.                                                         evolving lifestyle resorts. Residents have experienced
                                                                       palates and are accustomed to choices. They don’t want
Mitch Possinger is president and founder of Cura                       food like Mom used to make – they want food, service,
Hospitality, a Pennsylvania-based regional provider of                 and options like they’ve experienced in fine restaurants,
contract dining services to 73 senior living communities.              hotels, and resorts. At his session, Possinger will provide
                                                                       insights on how to deliver it!

May 2006                                                                                                                             13

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