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January 18, 2023
Aging consumers are an enormous, powerful and rapidly growing shopper segment. Today, this cohort consists of some 70 million baby boomers plus millions of older seniors and early Gen Xers.
Already, the 55-and-older demographic controls 70% of consumer wealth and is responsible for more than 40% of consumer spending in the United States, reports market insights firm Age of Majority. Those percentages will only continue climbing as the nation's population grows older in the coming decades.
And yet, despite their sheer size and spending power, aging consumers are frequently overlooked by brand marketers, if not ignored completely. This is true across numerous industries, including natural products.
"In the marketing world, unless you have products that are very focused on older adults, after a consumer turns 55, they drop off the table," says Jeff Weiss, president and CEO of Age of Majority, which focuses on consumers aged 55 and up. "You don't see many creative briefs or much market research or media buying that includes this age group. Most marketers are suffering from FOMO: fear of marketing to older people."
OK, what's the deal? Why do so many brands bypass this massive and moneyed shopper sector when setting their marketing strategies?
There are several reasons. For one, marketers are taught in school that 18-to-34 is the demographic that matters most, and that capturing this cohort is the ticket to gaining cultural traction. This teaching isn't wrong, per se; it's often spot-on. But it's also somewhat reductive, leaving a powerful shopper contingent—older adults—in the lurch.
Another factor is that most marketers are themselves young. "Only 6% or 8% are age 50 and older," Weiss notes. "The reality is that once you turn 40, you are considered a dinosaur in this industry."
Marketers' youth matters, says Weiss, because it can easily beget agism, whether a marketer realizes it or not. "With all of the talk of diversity, equity and inclusion, rarely is age discussed as a prejudice," he explains. "But when thinking about older consumers, people often think of agist stereotypes, such as an old guy sitting in a rocking chair just waiting to die."
However, such stereotypes just don't jive with the reality of today's aging consumers. "Sure, it used to be that people went to school, graduated, got their first big job, got married, had kids, retired at 65 and then waited to die—but it's not like that anymore," Weiss says. "Aging is very different now."
While there are certainly exceptions, today's aging consumers are staying active and engaged for as long as they can.
"They are biking, running and doing triathlons—which is not the way society or most companies view older adults," Weiss explains. "Sure, people might have more physical and mental issues as they get older, but they're not letting those stop them."
In fact, according to Age of Majority research, a whopping 75% of Americans aged 55 and up could be considered "active agers," its term for those who are physically, mentally, socially and digitally active.
A consumer group like this has never existed before, says Weiss, just another reason why they are so misunderstood and too often ignored. But digger deeper into this demographic reveals even more characteristics that should appeal to natural products marketers.
Along with having more money to spend than younger shoppers, aging consumers are, by and large, well educated, mentally astute and tech savvy. Research shows that they prioritize quality of life and proactive health management.
They are also unafraid of aging. Unlike old folks even just 20 years ago, this group doesn't aspire to look, feel or be any younger than they actually are. "Instead, they just want to look, feel and be as good as they can for who they are at this stage of life, whether they are 55 or 85 years old," Weiss says. In other words, goodbye, anti-aging; hello, aging well.
Another key characteristic is that, much more than their parents' generation, aging consumers believe that good nutrition and other healthy lifestyle habits have a huge impact on their well-being, vitality and longevity. They don't hesitate to invest in high-quality foods, beverages and dietary supplements that can positively influence their health.
Last year, Age of Majority asked 785 active agers for their opinions of natural health products including vitamins, herbal products, homeopathic preparations, probiotics and more. The survey showed that 65% of active agers view natural health products as good complements to traditional medicine, while 17% see them as a preferred alternative. "That adds up to more than 80% of adults 55 and older—a huge market," Weiss says.
When it comes actual usage of natural health products, 61% of active agers reported using them currently, and of those consumers, 81% do so at least daily. Among the most widely used products, vitamin D ranked first with 71%, followed by vitamin C at 47%, calcium at 38%, omega-3s at 36%, vitamin B at 35% and probiotics at 33%. Green tea, magnesium, turmeric, vitamin E and collagen also rated high.
Age of Majority also asked its panel: What research if any do you do to confirm that a supplement is safe and effective? Some 60% of respondents said they research products online, 52% report reading the full label and 41% said they consult with their medical doctor before taking a new supplement.
Given these factors, this demographic is well worth natural products marketers' time and attention. High-quality products coupled with ample education, viewable research and overall transparency will go a long way with this group.
Melaina Juntti is a longtime freelance journalist, copy editor and marketing professional. With nearly two decades of experience in the natural products industry, she is a frequent contributor to Nutrition Business Journal, Natural Foods Merchandiser and NewHope.com. Melaina is based in Madison, Wisconsin, and is passionate about hiking, camping, fishing and live music.
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