Manufacturers urged to develop ‘tasty’ protein-enriched foods for the elderly

By Nathan Gray contact

- Last updated on GMT

Elderly consumers may have high levels of confusion and distrust over functional foods, say researchers.
Elderly consumers may have high levels of confusion and distrust over functional foods, say researchers.

Related tags: Nutrition

Researchers have urged food producers to develop good tasting protein-rich products that are based on foods that the elderly already regularly consume.

This study, published in Appetite, provides insights into what types of protein-enriched food may appeal to elderly consumers, and what remains to be done to successfully promote protein consumption among elderly using these products.

Led by Lotte  van der Zanden from Wageningen University in The Netherlands, the team explored the knowledge, perceptions and preferences of elderly consumers regarding protein-enriched food – finding that confusion, distrust and a perceived lack of personal relevance were main perceived barriers to purchasing and consuming these products, although a majority of the participants did report occasionally consuming at least one type of functional food.

“Contrary to what is found in most studies on functional food, the elderly in our sample were predominantly sceptical about these products,”​ noted the research team. “This scepticism was strongly driven by distrust which is regularly found in research on functional food and may be partly explained by a lack of nutritional knowledge.”

The focus group led research found that carrier preferences were similar for elderly consumers that both independent living (ID) and in a residential home (RH) – revealing that they preferred protein-enriched foods based on healthy products that they consumed frequently.

“In line with our findings, we recommend that food producers develop tasty and healthy protein-enriched foods, based on carriers that are consumed often by elderly,”​ stated the Dutch team – adding that in the case of the Dutch elderly they focused on, good carriers could include bread or dairy products.

Study details

The Dutch team conducted their study based on insights from focus groups with independently living (ID) elderly and residential home living elderly people in The Netherlands. A total of 42 elderly (14 males, 28 females, aged 55+) participated in six focus groups, consisting of four to eight participants each. 

According to the findings, both the ID and RH elderly consumers were predominantly sceptical about functional food in general.

“For the ID elderly, medical advice was an important facilitator that could overcome barriers to purchasing and consuming protein-enriched food, indicating the importance of personal relevance for this group,”​ explained the team. 

“For the RH elderly, in contrast, sensory appeal of protein-enriched foods was a facilitator.”​ 

In addition, the RH elderly were less familiar with a range of functional foods than the ID elderly, said the team – suggesting that this is presumably because they only have access to a small supermarket in the residential home with a limited assortment.

In addition, the groups preferred to use the products in their current diet as carriers for protein enrichment, said the team – noting that the reasoning behind this was twofold.

“On the one hand, they indicated that this was practical because they would not have to change their grocery shopping or eating habits. On the other hand, they argued that protein enrichment would replenish a protein deficiency most quickly when put in these frequently consumed foods.”​ 

The consumers also indicated that they could imagine that other food categories would be more suitable for other consumer groups - for example: candy for children and microwave meals for busy people.

“Nevertheless, participants indicated that enrichment of unhealthy products could falsely associate them with being healthy, which they did not approve of,”​ noted the team – adding that they recommend food producers develop tasty and healthy protein-enriched foods, based on carriers that are consumed often by elderly. 

Source: Appetite
Volume 80, Pages 16–22, doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2014.04.025
“Knowledge, perceptions and preferences of elderly regarding protein-enriched functional food”
Authors: Lotte D.T. van der Zanden, Ellen van Kleef, René A. de Wijk, Hans C.M. van Trijp

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