Given the greying of the North American population, it is no surprise food and beverage marketers are starting to take this significant market sector seriously.
Not only are seniors more concerned about their health, they are more likely to act on these concerns than younger age groups — increasing their propensity to purchase healthy and functional foods.
Seniors account for more than a fifth of all food and drink purchases globally, equivalent to spending of $750 billion in 2008, according to a new research report on senior nutrition by Business Insights. This is up from $685 billion in 2003.
Reaching out to these buyers is not always easy, however.
"Our data shows that there are five major senior consumer groups that have distinct nutritional behaviours, which require specific marketing approaches in order to target them effectively," explains Natasha Horton, consumer goods analyst at Business Insights. "But marketers appear to face several problems, not the least because they appear to lack empathy and understanding of this age group."
One significant trend among seniors is the tendency to 'self-medicate.' This trend is reinforced by seniors' growing awareness of the links between diet and health.
A number of diseases associated with ageing stand to benefit from improved nutrition. These include cardiovascular disease, obesity, sarcopenia, depression and dementia, and digestive health.
While its prevalence rate lags well behind those of some other diseases, osteoporosis is also a major target for nutritional products, the report says.
What are the top ingredients appearing in products for seniors? The report identifies lactobacillus, omega-3s and bifidobacterium.
"These three ingredients took a 23.5 per cent, 20.9 per cent and a 14.6 per cent share of these product launches in 2008 respectively," the report states. "In absolute terms, most ingredients have had relatively stable shares, apart from coenzyme-Q10. This is the only ingredient that has seen a significant decline in its total percentage share of launches between 2005 and 2008, from 8.6 per cent to 3.9 per cent."
Instead of targeting a range of diseases, manufacturers have focused on a limited number of diseases with a limited number of ingredients. "This may make sense in terms of not stretching resources too thinly, but it highlights that there is room to target other diseases with new ingredients, if these can be shown to be effective," Horton says.
The report sees strong potential in some other ingredients as well.
Plant sterols and stanols can have significant benefits in cardiovascular health, though European regulators do not view them as favourably as American regulators.
The strong nutritional profile of whey proteins, and the speed with which they are absorbed by the body, make them good candidates for senior supplementation. So, too, is fibre and other weight-management ingredients a potential "hotspot" of future activity, the report says.