Elderly Customers: Food, Supplement Marketing Opportunities

October 10, 2012

Elderly customers should be a prime target for food and supplement marketing.

Elderly customers should be a prime target for food and supplement marketing.

As we get older, our muscles start to weaken, injuries take longer to heal, and we become more likely to develop conditions that affect our bones, joints, hearts, and brains. Diet can help postpone and mitigate some of these conditions; yet the market for older people wanting to stay healthy has been largely neglected by food companies. This is beginning to change.

It’s a growing market, after all. According to data from Euromonitor International, the 65+ demographic grew by 12% between 2004 and 2009, and in 2010 totaled about 541 million globally. By 2014, this is predicted to rise to almost 600 million.

“Older people are at high risk of nutritional deficiencies,” says Ewa Hudson, head of Euromonitor’s health and wellness research department. “Even if the diet is reasonably healthy and sufficient in calories, the effectiveness of the digestive tract declines with age and [people] are no longer able to absorb optimum levels of nutrients. Too little fiber in the diet is also a common concern.”

Although products such as Nestlé’s Build-Up, Complan from Heinz, and Abbott’s Ensure are available, they are marketed as medical products. But what about older people who want to remain healthy as long as possible? What potential is there for mainstream products to help them feel younger? “The key message should be that maintaining fitness and healthy muscle and bone mass is much easier than regaining them once the body has succumbed to illness,” says Hudson.

Jens Bleiel, chief executive of Food for Health Ireland, finds it interesting that the global food industry has yet to discover the consumer potential of the elderly market. “There is no globally successful brand for the elderly,” he says. “The food industry has to get its act together. You can see from other industries, such as cosmetics and travel, that it shouldn’t be that difficult, but the food sector has not found a way to promote healthy aging with an attractive marketing concept. The examples that exist in the food industry are not that convincing.”

However, healthy aging is now very much on the agenda of most big food and beverage companies, according to Peter Wennström, president and expert consultant at HealthyMarketingTeam (London). “You have to address healthy aging as you would address all other stages of life, and realize that people do not identify themselves as ‘old,’” he says. “If you address aging as a condition, it’s unlikely to succeed.”

There is certainly an increase in demand for healthy-aging products, claims Noel Corcoran, sales and marketing director at UK-based Carbery. “As people grow older, customer demand from older people is going to rise dramatically, and there’s a need for food concepts with clear marketing messages that will appeal to them,” he says. “We deal with both huge multinationals and small companies, and there is growing interest from both for healthy-aging products.”

Older people often have more access to money and time, Wennström says, delivering discerning and demanding premium consumers who realize they will soon lose the strength and energy to do everything they want to, from exercise to sex. Healthy aging should be promoted as a positive thing, he believes. “It’s only for the niche of people who do have medical problems where a medical approach is needed. It’s not until I see death in the mirror that I will go for a message that tells me to take something if I don’t want to die.”

 

Protein: Important for the Elderly

Many ingredients marketed for healthy-aging products are protein based, as our bodies’ need for protein increases as we age. “We are starting to see more interest in products targeted to this demographic,” says Andres Kangur, marketing director for Europe at Fonterra (Amsterdam). “Our research shows that consumers are becoming more aware of the role that protein plays in muscle maintenance and mobility, so consumer awareness is likely to drive future product development.”

Protein is particularly important for maintaining muscle strength and preventing sarcopenia, or age-related loss of muscle mass. While the World Health Organization’s recommended daily intake for protein is 0.8 g per kilo of bodyweight a day, many scientists working in the field suggest that 1.2 to 1.3 g/kg/day is needed to prevent sarcopenia.

“Normal western diets deliver just 1 g/kg/day,” says Barbara McCarthy, project innovation manager at Carbery. “Protein supplementation is really important in this age group, and many food manufacturers see this as an opportunity. Seniors are not so aware of the importance of protein, so this is something we need to educate them on.”

Carbery is one of several companies working in this area, having carried out clinical trials looking at whey protein to prevent sarcopenia. “It contains all the essential amino acids required by the body and is absorbed fairly rapidly,” says McCarthy. “Importantly for muscle protein synthesis, it is an excellent source of leucine. Protein supplementation, in combination with physical exercise, optimizes muscle protein synthesis and minimizes sarcopenia.”

Whey protein has been widely used in the sports nutrition sector for many years, and there is much experience in formulating it into beverages, bars, meal replacements, and ready meals, as well as yogurts and processed cheese. “Our customers are always looking at different vehicles for incorporating protein into the diet, and we’re continuously looking at new applications, in conjunction with our customers,” says McCarthy.

Fonterra’s Kangur believes dairy is the optimal protein source, from both a taste and nutrition perspective, and the company offers a range of protein-based ingredients to suit different consumer needs and various applications. “Dairy protein is a natural source of nutrition for older people who want to support their mobility and strength to stay fit and vital,” he says.

From a manufacturing perspective, he believes there can be formulation challenges if a company has never dealt with protein before. “That’s why co-creation is at the heart of our business model,” he says. “By working collaboratively with our customers, we use our technical knowledge, application expertise, and manufacturing know-how to advise and support them in developing their product and process.”

Elderly: Bones and Joints

Bones and joints also weaken as we age, and again there is huge potential for food products that target these body parts. Two ingredients from Stratum Nutrition (St. Charles, MO) have applications in this area: NEM, a natural eggshell membrane for joint health; and ESC, which utilizes the calcium from eggs for bone support. Currently both are used in supplements, and company representative Heather Thompson believes they have potential as ingredients in food products, too. “NEM includes a lot of naturally occurring joint-support nutrients, such as glycosoaminoglycans, hyaluronic acid, and collagen,” she says. “In the United States, we have self-affirmed GRAS status, so we have done work on safety to show it could be used in this way. It’s insoluble so it has its limitations in beverages, but, in a thicker-textured product, it could work well.”

Rousselot’s (Son, The Netherlands) Peptan collagen peptides have also proven beneficial in osteoarthritis and osteopenia. “Several studies have shown a daily intake of 10 g of collagen peptides prevents bone loss and even increases bone mass density,” says Rousselot’s Caroline Brochard-Garnier. “One study published last September showed it could prevent bone mass density decrease as efficiently as the drug Raloxifene. Positive effects on joint health have also been shown, with the most recent Rousselot studies showing a similar effect on joint cells to ibuprofen.”

Collagen peptides are already used in many food products and beverages. “They are easy to handle and formulate, and virtually dust free,” Brochard-Garnier says. “They hydrate and disperse quickly; have good flowing properties, wettability, and instant dispersibility; and can also be used to increase dietary protein intake in elderly people.”

 

Elderly: Heart Health

The incidence of cardiovascular disease increases as we age, too, and products targeting heart health are particularly appropriate for older people. One well-known heart health ingredient is Raisio’s (Raisio, Finland) cholesterol-lowering plant stanol extract Benecol. Marketing manager Moona Pohjola says one reason Benecol has great potential in healthy-aging products is that people do not want to give up things as they get older-they want to continue being active. Supporting heart health by lowering cholesterol is a good way to promote this.

“More than 60 clinical studies have been carried out worldwide, and it is one of the few ingredients that has [a European Commission] heart disease–reduction health claim,” she says. “The benefits can be measured, and the products taste good. Awareness is growing in Latin America and Asia, and heart health is coming onto the agenda in countries such as India and China. Consumers are motivated to take care of themselves, and governments are motivated to raise awareness of the consequences of not aging healthily.”

 

Elderly: Antioxidants

The levels of antioxidants in the body also reduce as we age. “This means we need more antioxidants from our food,” explains Petra Kindlund, nutritionist at BioReal (Gustavsberg, Sweden). The company produces the powerful antioxidant astaxanthin from algae and says it’s about 500 times stronger than vitamin E. “It enters the cell membrane and gives superior protection to the cell compared to other antioxidants that are only in the lipid layer, or vitamin C which is water-soluble and does not even enter the cell.”

It is thought that astaxanthin can improve the function of mitochondria, which produce energy within cells and become less effective as we age. “This can help the muscles, for example, and perhaps reduce muscle loss,” says Kindlund. Clinical studies have shown astaxanthin’s effectiveness in increasing muscle strength, in reducing eye strain, and in other health applications.

In Europe, astaxanthin is currently only used in supplements-BioReal has applied for food use and is awaiting a decision-but, in the United States it is GRAS affirmed for foods. “Demand has increased, especially in Europe, and we are increasing our production in Sweden,” Kindlund says. “It’s also been shown to reduce wrinkles, as there is efficient uptake into the skin when it is eaten, supporting the skin from the breakdown of collagen.”

Another ingredient with documented antioxidant properties is Phenolea, the olive fruit extract from Phenofarm (Italy), rich in polyphenols. “The main polyphenol is hydroxytyrosol, which has a very high antioxidant power,” says managing director Stefano Germani. “In addition to its antioxidant activity, the extract has other important biological effects, such as anti-inflammatory properties.” Phenolea is water soluble, and so is easy to apply in beverages and supplements, he says.

The company commissioned a study on Phenolea and brain aging, related to the activity of nerve growth factor (NGF), an important target involved in the brain’s neuronal activity. “[NGF] decreases during the aging process, and the results of the study were interesting as [they] showed that, after 10 days of administration of Phenolea, NGF levels increased, influencing neuronal activity,” says Germani.

 

Older and Wiser

People are looking to defy age and stay healthy as long as possible. They don’t want to age as their parents did and are open to new products that might help them achieve this goal. But there is also the societal issue-people have a fixed idea of how an “old person” should look and behave, particularly in more traditional countries.

“On one side you have scientific and product developments, and on the other the readiness of society to allow the role of aging people to change,” says Germani. “It’s not as simple as launching a product that slows aging-it’s both the psychology and physiology in different markets.”

 

Sidebar

Food for Health Ireland: Focusing on Health Aging
Health aging is a focus area for Food for Health Ireland, which links the expertise of four Irish universities and four industrial partners to develop new ingredients. “We chose healthy aging because it’s one of the world’s key societal concerns,” says chief executive Jens Bleiel. “The number of elderly people dependent on others or social welfare is a big concern, and healthy aging is a way of delaying the age when people become dependent.”

Food for Health Ireland is currently running a human intervention study in 150 subjects, who are put on either 1) placebo, 2) a nutritional support product containing all the protein and protein hydrolysate ingredients scientists currently believe are the best for muscle synthesis in aging people, plus vitamins and minerals, or 3) this supplement plus an exercise program. “We are measuring biomarkers that look at the biochemical processes in the muscles, and also measures of functional benefits,” he says. “The idea is to demonstrate that if you take this nutritional supplement and do exercise, it will have significant benefits.”

 

This article first appeared in Nutritional Outlook’s sister publication, International Food Ingredientsmagazine.IFI magazineis the authoritative European publication on the food ingredients market. Visit www.ingredientsnetwork.com.