Flavored Milks, Veggie Caviar in '89 Almanac

Times Staff Writer

There's more romance and less sex in the air these days--but that's a byproduct attributable less to fear of AIDS than to the aging of Baby Boomers, according to the 197th edition of the Old Farmer's Almanac published today.

"In 1989, Baby Boomers will be hitting their 40s in record numbers, and most of them are married or too old for the singles bar scene," forecaster Kim Long explained in the second annual "consumer guide" that he has contributed to the almanac. That aging also will fuel an upsurge in demand for hair-care products.

On the other hand, growth in the number of extremely elderly people is stimulating the funeral business, Long said in a telephone interview from his home in Denver, where he publishes his book-length American Forecaster.

"The number of deaths this year will double that of just a few years ago," he said. "That's a function of population size, and that number's going to get bigger still. That will affect mortuaries, crematoriums, casket sales, limousines--whatever's associated with funerals."

Long said he combines research--"statistics, sales records, interviews and analysis"--with intuition in producing his predictions of what is just beyond the horizon. Over the past six years that he has specialized in forecasting, he has produced three editions of his own American Forecaster, which brought him to the attention of the almanac.

Last year, he successfully forecast increased girdle sales for an aging--and presumably sagging--female population, fading favor for wine coolers, emergence of diet pet food and a decline in consumers' interest in generic grocery goods. Among his expectations for 1989:

- Resealable aluminum soda-pop containers.

- Flavored milks, including banana, strawberry and peach.

- "Caviar" derived from vegetable products and fish flavors, joining the ersatz crab meat already available.

- Low-fat tortilla chips, leading a parade of reduced-calorie snack foods.

Long also finds ostensibly contradictory trends, such as consumers going both for economy cars with style as well as big "muscle cars" that guzzle gas. "There's no longer a single element that's leading a trend," he theorized.

"It's like skirt lengths--they're both long and short. The same with cars. There is a large segment of the population that won't drive anything that won't get good mileage. But there are enough well-off people now who have decided that it's OK to have less fuel efficiency to please their vanity (for more muscle) at the expense of getting eight to 10 miles per gallon."

Started in 1792

Another phenomenon is the continuing popularity of Jeep-like four-wheel-drive vehicles, which convey a utilitarian image but are pretty much used just to drive around. "They are pretty useless for anything else," he said.

The Old Farmer's Almanac, which is published by Yankee Publishing Inc. in Dublin, N.H., is a compendium of fact, folklore and fancy that has appeared annually since 1792. It sells more than 4 million copies at $2.50, and while not all its readers are farmers, 55% of them live on more than one acre, according to publisher Robert B. Thomas.

While including such random observations as the description of Cleveland as "Detroit without the glitter," the almanac basically contains planting tables, zodiac secrets, recipes, astronomical charts, tide times, lists of holidays and schedules of eclipses.

But the almanac may be best known for its long-range weather forecasts, for which it claims 80% accuracy. However, acknowledged almanac editor Judson Hale, the 1988 edition's 20% error rate included the unsuspected Midwest drought that began in late May.

"Many of our day-to-day forecasts for May and June in the Midwest were wrong," Hale conceded. But he also cites another passage in which the almanac warned that summer would be "considerably drier in the Ohio and middle and lower Mississippi River valleys, as well as the central Great Plains."

"So . . . maybe we weren't that far off!" he said.

The 1989 edition also includes such distinctive miscellany as Voyager II's anticipated picture show of the planet Neptune as the one-ton spacecraft begins its scheduled fly-by next Aug. 24, 11 years after launch. Voyager II's latest planetary passage will follow by a week another of Long's consumer forecasts: a predictable wave of nostalgia that will be generated by the 20th anniversary of Woodstock, the giant rock festival and hippie-era celebration that took place before 400,000 people in Bethel, N.Y., on Aug. 15-17, 1969.

This, Long wrote, will trigger a Woodstock revival, including posters, television specials, books and major articles--but not, he adds, a return to "the antics and attitudes commonplace in 1969."

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