Is age just a number when it comes to nutrition?


Kerry’s Niamh Hunt discusses the role of consumer demographics in the functional food and beverage markets.

Photo © Olena

Photo © Olena

When you picture someone buying your nutritional product, what do they look like? Older? Younger? Male? Female? Sporty? A parent? Whether or not products are deliberately aimed at a particular audience, manufacturers usually have a strong idea of the consumers who will buy them. And it’s fair to say that the degree to which that picture is based on actual data (rather than common assumptions) can vary.

Earlier this year, Kerry published an eBook Functional Health Benefits for Every Generation. Our goal was to provide manufacturers of functional foods, beverages, and supplements with helpful insights on the role of demographic factors like age, gender, and activity level in purchasing decisions. It was based on a major survey of over 13,000 consumers in 16 different countries.1

Here’s a snapshot of what we learned.

We’re All Getting Proactive

Our first and most important finding was that different demographic groups have more in common than you might imagine.

One is a tendency to be more proactive and to turn to nutrition as a strategy to address health concerns. This is a trend COVID undoubtedly accelerated: 44% of respondents globally said they had bought more dietary supplements since the outbreak of the pandemic, while 42% had increased their purchases of functional or fortified foods and beverages.

This proactive, preventative mindset was evident across demographic categories. The motivation to take greater action on wellbeing was greatest among the youngest age groups (Generation Z and Millennials) and one of the oldest (Boomers).1

Some Concerns Remain Through Life…

When respondents were presented with a list of health areas and asked to choose those that were the most important reasons for buying healthy lifestyle products, nearly six in ten (58%) chose immune system support.1 Indeed, immune health was the top concern across all age groups as well as all countries. The next most common were digestive health and joint health, and—again—demand for solutions in these areas was high across all age groups, including the youngest.

…But Different Groups Can Have Different Needs.

Of course different groups often have different needs, so an understanding of the importance of demographic factors like age and activity level can help manufacturers create on-trend products. Often that’s because of obvious differences in health need states and activity levels, but it can also be the result of different mindsets as attitudes shift over time.

In our eBook, we provide insights into the specific needs of three groups in particular:


Generation Z consumers are known for a holistic approach to wellness. They invest in a range of strategies to improve physical, mental, and emotional health, led by getting enough sleep and keeping an active mind. In a 2021 Innova Market Insights survey, for example, four in 10 respondents between the ages of 18 and 25 said they had taken action to improve their sleep in the past 12 months, with 22% purchasing products to do so.2

Sports nutrition is also a strong category for this age group, reflecting high levels of physical activity. Our survey found that around one in five consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 purchased sports nutrition and energy beverages.1

Millennial Parents

Across all age groups, consumers are increasingly skeptical about the claims made for nutrition products. However, the tendency to ask questions is particularly evident among millennials, 75% of whom carry out extensive research ahead of a purchase.3

With millennials now parents to around half of children in the U.S.4, our eBook highlights the fact that mothers and fathers are increasingly well informed as well as health-conscious. They want to support their children’s health with safe, credible, and science-backed products. Formulating with functional ingredients supported by research can build trust and generational loyalty, while incorporating functional benefits into tasty products that children will enjoy can make it easier for parents to make healthy choices.

Older Adults

As consumers enter their 30s and 40s, concerns about long-term health begin to emerge. By the ages of 46-55, as consumers see visible signs of the aging process, physical health becomes an even greater focal point. Reflecting this, our survey found that heart and joint health displaced improved sleep on the list of the top three most-sought functional benefits for this age group.1

More in Common

Ultimately, however, it makes sense to focus on selling points that resonate with consumers across all demographic groups. Our survey found that people of all ages are increasingly doing their own research on the nutritional products they buy and are more likely to make a purchase if they have seen scientific data supporting its claims.5 In this climate, using clinically validated ingredients, and communicating transparently about their benefits, offers a significant competitive advantage—whatever the age of your target market.

Download the full eBook.

About the Author

Niamh Hunt, Kerry Global Marketing Manager, received her BSc in Genetics and Cell Biology in 2013, followed by her PhD in 2018 from Dublin City University, Ireland. Hunt supports Kerry’s immune and digestive health portfolio of science-backed branded ingredients, and contributes to the growth of Kerry’s portfolio ingredients into further need states.


  1. Kerry Global Consumer Survey. “Digestive, Immune, and Joint Health.” 2021
  2. Innova Market Insights report. “Trends Insider: Diet Principles and Health Needs by Generation.” 2021
  3. Straus M. “Ingredient Innovation Is on the Rise for Children and Infant Nutrition Products, Dietary Supplements.” Nutritional Outlook. Published November 17, 2020.
  4. Press release. “NRF Study Finds Millennial Parents Shop Differently than Those from Other Generations.” National Retail Federation website. Posted April 29, 2018.
  5. Kerry Global Consumer Research. “Digestive and Immune Health.” 2021
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