Developing food for the ageing consumer - six things to consider
By Sarah Chapman - 21 March 2017
It's no secret that the average age of the European population is increasing - the over 60s now account for nearly a quarter of the total population. As we age, our bodies and our nutritional needs change. As a market, ageing consumers remain largely ignored by the food industry, but they offer significant opportunities - they often have a higher disposable income and more time to browse new products while shopping. Companies that understand the opportunities and challenges can ensure that their new and mainstream products remain accessible and relevant to the needs of older consumers.
When developing new food and drink products for ageing consumers or reviewing the relevance of current products, companies may wish to consider some of the changes that we go through as we age:
1. Reduced sensory perception - our sensitivity to texture, taste and smell reduces as we age, but the extent varies from one person to another. This can ultimately reduce our enjoyment of food. Poor eyesight can make it difficult to find and read the information on packaging, particularly those with small fonts that contrast poorly with the background colour.
2. Reduction of body calcium - this can result in decreased bone density, particularly in older women. Calcium and vitamin D are essential for maintaining strong bones. The food industry has responded by developing a range of fortified products such as yoghurt and milk.
3. Arthritis - together with weakened muscles, this can make it difficult - or even painful - for older people to open packaging, such as bottles, jars, cans, pouches and thermoformed trays. The size of the opening mechanism and the size and shape of the packaging can affect how easy it is to grip, as well as the strength required to open it.
4. Oral health - tooth loss, ill fitting dentures and a decrease in the production of saliva can make chewing and swallowing food difficult. Older people will often avoid foods that they find difficult to eat, which can lead to a drop in nutrient intake. Foods with softer textures or bite-sized pieces can be swallowed more easily and without the risk of choking.
5. Loss of appetite - this becomes more common with age, particularly for those experiencing illness, depression or loneliness. It can eventually lead to malnutrition and related diseases.
6. Physical health - the incidence of conditions such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension and type 2 diabetes increase with age. Manufacturers have responded by developing new health-focused products (e.g. cholesterol-lowering products such as margarines and dairy products that contain plant sterols).
It's important to bear in mind that the majority of consumers, including older adults, prefer to eat foods that are naturally high in vitamins and minerals rather than foods which are artificially fortified. Nobody wants to be reminded that they’re getting older, so it’s important for products that target older consumers to emphasise the positive aspects of ageing, such as more time for family and friends and enjoying an active lifestyle.
We're researching the challenges of developing food for the ageing consumer in our member funded project - Designing food and drinks for personalisation of diets for different life stages. For more information, or to discuss how we can help, please get in touch.