The company has identified 12 life stages from Newbie - 0 to 24 months - through Nesting and Settled to Winding Down - 70 years plus, - as a means of better understanding the particular needs of consumers.
By thinking in terms of life stages, Cargill believes it is also better positioned to identify nutritional gaps and market opportunities within certain age groups.
At the IFT show in New Orleans this week, Cargill is displaying its ingredient solutions for two critical Life Stages: Tweens aged eight to 12 and Empty Nesters aged 50 to 59.
"Every single product prototype you see here on our stand has some functional benefit for either a tween or an empty nester," senior market research manager Candyce Wisner told FoodNavigator-USA.com.
So why concentrate on Tweens? Wisner contends that the eight to 12 age group represents a critical separation point, from a position where everything is bought by Mom to where the child has more influence on what is being bought.
"They are starting to make decisions," she said. "They are also spending their own money, and it is the age at which they start to establish their preferences."
Tweens also represent a huge, stable population, and unlike older age groups, they are much less willing to consume a product that doesn't taste so good, even if it is good for them.
"We've found that Tweens are not health-averse, but taste overrides everything," said Wisner. "So food companies always have to lead with taste."
But in addition, there is huge market potential here for functional and nutritional ingredients. Children in the US are not getting enough calcium and fiber in their diet, and they are consuming too much fat. The trick, says Wisner, is to target this age group with a healthy product that looks appealing.
For example peanut butter cookies on display at the stand are made with TransEnd 390 shortening, which has zero grams trans fat. The product is also fortified with Prolia soy flour. A chocolate soy milk product is formulated with Prolisse soy protein isolate for good mouthfeel and contains eight grams of protein, Ascend trehalose and Oliggo-Fiber inulin.
The Boomer generation on the other hand - those aged 40 to 59 - is 78 million-strong in the US and is an economically stable sector of the population. By focusing on the second half of this generation - those aged 50 to 59 - Cargill believes it can better identify exactly what these consumers are demanding.
"For example, we know that more adults are drinking smoothies," said Wisner. "There has been a huge jump in those consuming smoothies from 7 per cent to 18 per cent in the past five years.
"And we also know, from co-sponsoring a Gallup research study, that this group is concerned about heart disease."
From this data, Cargill developed a heart-healthy smoothie containing 0.65 grams of Corowise plant sterols. The company claims that a total intake of 1.3 grams of sterol esters per day may reduce the risk of heart disease as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
"But it's got to taste good," said Wisner.
Other products on display include trans fat-free cinnamon scones and sugar-free cheesecake, which was particularly good.
Wisner is confident that Cargill's new Life Stage approach to market research and ingredient formulation is a long term business philosophy that will reap long term benefits.
"I think it is a real testimony to our concern for delivering value," she said. "We don't have an army of marketing people at Cargill, so we're really at the foothills of this. But hopefully by sitting down with customers to really identify which markets they are targeting, we can find solutions that will really resonate."