Ageing populations in the developed world have already played a major role in the growth of the global supplements industry, along with an increasing willingness to self-medicate.
But while the supplements market has long benefited from the changing demographics, food makers have been slower to target 'seniors'.
"Value can be added to most product sectors by targeting different lifestyles and demographic groups," said Kathrin Jungbeck, OTC healthcare analyst at Euromonitor. "At Euromonitor we expect herbal calming and sleeping products for example, to see rapid percentage growth in the next five years, as a new, more demanding kind of older consumer, suffering stress and sleeping difficulties, is likely to pursue optimum quality of life."
As life expectancy rises in both developed regions and emerging markets such as China and India, older consumers are increasingly suffering from an array of age-related ailments.
But governments and health-insurance companies have proved unable and unprepared to incur the prohibitive cost of treating these ailments, according to Jungbeck. As a result, between 1998 and 2003, governments across the globe embarked on a phase of medical deregulation, leading to many formerly Rx medicines being switched to OTC, encouraging a habit of self-medication among consumers.
"Ageing consumers are looking to do all they can to help avoid age-related illnesses such as arthritis, osteoporosis and prostate problems. Many see vitamins and dietary supplements as the answer. Not surprisingly therefore, vitamins and dietary supplements remain the bedrock of OTC healthcare sales, accounting for almost 40 per cent of global OTC value sales in 2003," Jungbeck writes.
This trend is set to continue, with Euromonitor forecasting that products such as calcium (to improve bone health), glucosamine (for arthritis) and co-enzyme Q10 (for cardiovascular health) will be the main engines for growth, especially if aimed at the affluent, older generations.
But a Datamonitor report on the food market, out earlier this year, suggests that food makers shy away from consumers over the age of 50 because of the assumption that they are very brand loyal and less likely than younger people to try new products.
"This is perhaps the greatest marketing myth associated with senior consumers and stems from historic and stereotypical references," said Daniel Bone, Datamonitor consumer markets analyst and author of the report. "Critically, food purchases tend to come into line with food preferences once the kids leave home simply because there are fewer people to please. They have more time to focus upon themselves and this is often reflected by different consumption patterns."
The number of Europeans aged 50-64 is set to rise by 15 per cent from 127.4 million in 1997 to 147 million by 2007, according to Datamonitor. This, together with the fact that 'seniors' possess high disposable incomes, makes it a highly attractive and profitable segment.
"Changing attitudes and consumption habits of both current and future cohorts of 50-59 year olds will herald a 'new-age' of senior consumerism," Bone predicts.
With a new generation of senior consumers and a blurring of values between the so-called 'older' and 'younger' age groups, food companies must make fashionable products available to and inclusive of seniors, concludes the report.