Special edition: Foods for seniors

Food for seniors: The million dollar opportunity that industry is in denial about

Think of people's sensitivities and don’t go down the age-focused route, says Mintel analyst Richard Cope. © iStock

By 2030 almost one fifth of the global population will be over 60 with their own demands and aspirations. But, as Mintel analyst Richard Cope explains, the food industry still hasn’t woken up to this golden oldie opportunity.

Food targeted specifically towards seniors conjures up images of puréed vegetables, unadventurous ingredients and single-serving pouches - baby food really, but marketed to older folks.  

But Europe's growing demographic of seniors comprises people that have travelled the world, are continuing to work well into their 60s and beyond and, with divorce rates among older people creeping upwards, a demographic getting back onto the dating scene.

They want food for vitality, to feel confident, competitive and energised in the workplace and personal life – not products or formats they associate with their parents,” Cope told FoodNavigator.

“It’s all about new guises whether it’s powder like baobab you stir into smoothie, add to your cereal or in a gum you chew; something that’s little bit more hidden away rather than a case of ‘I’m taking my old person energy products now.’”

There are parallels to be made with the insect protein market where industry is responding to nascent consumer interest but with products made using cricket flour where the six-legged ingredient is not visible.

'Industry is in denial'

But a scan of Mintel’s global new product database for innovative products doesn’t throw up many results.  

“These products are not already on the market, it’s us suggesting them,” says Cope. “Industry is a bit in denial, I don’t think they have woken up to this opportunity yet.”

And while Japan seems to be the obvious market to look to for examples of innovative products, Cope says the approach tends to be quite traditional, with products like puréed food, or those explicitly marketed towards seniors. But botanical extracts and segments like animal placenta are definitely on the rise.

So far Western companies seem to be doing the same. Nestlé is creating products with bigger fonts or in easy-to-open formats but the product design and formulation is resolutely traditional.  

How to sell it: Confidence and vitality

People don’t generally want to be reminded of how they are frail with ailing health. Sickness and death marketing is rarely successful. So how should companies sell these products?

“The food sector needs to avoid pitfalls in marketing we see in the financial sector with life insurance, guilty of clichéd, snowy-haired patronising marketing."

As far as successful marketing campaigns go, the food industry would do well to take a sideward glance at how the cosmetics industry is doing it.

L'Oréal, for instance, uses aspirational models of different ages to market the same product while Lancôme recently rehired Italian-American actress Isabella Rossellini after

firing her in the 1990s when she was in her 40s.

This ‘one-size-fits-all’ marketing approach may not be as challenging to pull off as it first appears in terms of foods or ingredients because what appeals to seniors is not so far removed from what appeals to younger demographics.

“There’s something in this for everyone – Millennials are very health focused in their life goals and want to start looking after themselves at an early age. There is a lifelong message brands can look at here.”

Retail opportunities

Technology will also play a role in the form of apps that help people track their food intake and energy levels, as well as in retail channels.

Despite the current hype around online groceries, the actual figures still don’t amount to a huge proportion of actual retail spending, says Cope. But with increasing numbers of people that have reduced mobility this will change (and will also have knock-on effects for packaging in terms of lightness and durability).

Services like Amazon Dash or Amazon Echo – a ‘smart home’ device that keeps kitchen cupboards stocked thanks to voice activated commands – are already here and are being targeted towards busy, young, urbanised consumers, but they’re actually more appropriate for seniors, says Cope. 

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