Natural Foods Merchandiser


According to a report titled “Aging Populations: Changing Food & Beverage Needs and Behaviors of Senior Consumers” released by the London-based Datamonitor Group, an independent market analysis company, senior consumers are hungry for products that support bone and heart health, and that are made with less sugar, salt and bad fats.

While there are some commonalities among ethnic and socio-economic subsets of the over-50 population when it comes to buying habits, the report found that marketers and manufacturers should be wary of generalizations, stating, “Baby boomers entering the 50-plus cohort could bring fundamental change to how ‘aging’ is defined.”

Older individuals are more resistant to trying new products, especially in a struggling economy, the report found, but they are increasingly interested in sugar alternatives, low-salt foods that taste good and good fats, such as omega oils. In fact, the report found that “seniors are more likely to have included omega oils in their diet than other added ingredients.”

Since, according to the report, seniors tend to be less adventurous with their food choices than their younger counterparts, how might natural foods stores and product manufacturers cater to this growing demographic?

“One way is general health,” said Colin Milner, CEO of the Vancouver-based International Council on Active Aging. “Forty-two percent of older adults use some kind of herbal product or dietary supplement, and 66 percent of them do so to treat a chronic health condition.”

Aging baby boomers are going beyond just consulting their physicians about treating chronic conditions—such as joint and eye health—to doing their own research on the Internet, Milner said. These consumers crave information, and this is a niche that natural foods stores and manufacturers can fill. “Consumers are spending $72 billion in 2009 to address aging concerns,” Milner said. “They are looking for health information, and this is a need that is not adequately being addressed.”

On a practical level, Milner said natural foods stores should consider how senior-friendly they are with regard to maneuverability, age-focused marketing and readability of signage. The naturals industry could face a bit of an uphill battle in how it is perceived by seniors, but that obstacle is not insurmountable, Milner said.

“Unfortunately, older people have gone through this whole morphing process [of the natural foods industry],” Milner said. “I remember when the first natural foods store opened in my neighborhood 30 years ago, and I thought, ‘holy smokes, this is snake oil.’ That impression, even though it’s not true, still sits there.”

In order to overcome this impression, Milner said the industry needs to consider the needs of older adults, then take the science and marketing and turn it into a powerful, reputable message.

He said the industry should be asking itself, “What are [older consumers’] needs, capabilities, desires, dreams and expectations? How do you match those things up to your products? We know they need [these products]. They’re asking their doctors about them. We know they have the money to pay for them. They desire a better life. The question is how will these products help them achieve their dreams, and will they live up to expectations?”

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