Healthy agers: To market older, you’d better get wiser

By Lynda Searby

- Last updated on GMT

Older consumers aren't looking for silver bullet solutions but transparent support, research in Asia and Europe finds. © / CharlieAJA
Older consumers aren't looking for silver bullet solutions but transparent support, research in Asia and Europe finds. © / CharlieAJA

Related tags Nutrition Snack functional beverage beverage

Europe’s seniors see functional foods as a 'dated' concept, are uncomfortable with products that expressly mention age, and want sustainable, naturally nutritious products, finds a consumer study led by the Healthy Marketing Team.

“Europeans favour sustainable, naturally nutritional organic foods as a strategy for healthy ageing, whereas in Asia, functional foods are very relevant and age segmentation can be deployed successfully,” ​Peter Wennström, founder of the London-based consultancy, told NutraIngredients in an exclusive interview on the study findings.

Using a variety of qualitative methods including focus groups, interviews and behavioural studies, researchers from Lund University in Sweden looked at the dietary and health patterns of 50-67 year olds living in Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Thailand and the Philippines.

“The overall purpose was to understand how brands should communicate health to these consumers in such a way that they generate purchase,” ​said Wennström.

What the researchers found was “a generation of people with a clear awareness of health, a strong sense of independence and loyalty towards brands they use”.

“Though there are differences to be found within different segments of this target group, the need for clarity on products seems to be universal,” ​said Wennström.

Support not solution

The analysis made some interesting observations about the role of the brand in healthy ageing.

“Brands used to be communicated as a solution but consumers have lost their belief in products that claim to be healthy without offering a transparent explanation. They don’t believe in miracles and they don’t want a product to tell them what is best for their body,” ​said Wennström.

He suggested brands in both regions needed to move from offering a solution, for example via health claims, towards “encouraging, informing and offering”​.

“Consumers are looking for an equal partnership, in which companies give them transparency, and in return, consumers give their loyalty by making the products

europe asia africa world global map Polhansen
© / Polhansen

part of their daily routines. In this context, brands need to shift from offering health as solutions to becoming supporters of the decisions of the healthy ager,” ​said Wennström.

Regional differences

However the researchers also found a number of differences between the Asian and European respondents.

In Asia, the hierarchy of age meant people were comfortable with the concept of ageing, associating it with pride and status and enabling messaging around healthy ageing to be done quite clearly and deliberately.

In Europe, however, people expressed discomfort at products mentioning specific ages.

“In Asia, age segmentation can be very successful - people like products targeted at specific age groups, whereas in Europe they don’t,” ​said Wennstrom.

Another difference was that in Europe, healthy agers are emerging as “very demanding premium consumers” - ​an affluent generation that doesn’t have to save and wants more out of life.

The healthy agers in the Asian regions included on the other hand have limited access to healthcare, and are therefore looking for value for money rather than premium offerings. 

The study detected regional differences in how healthy agers view foods. In Asia, it is viewed as a commodity and there is an attitude that ‘if it is on your plate you should eat it’. Organic is small and very niche.

By contrast in Europe people were aware of the whole production chain from the origin of the products, the ingredients and all the processes involved in its production, the researchers noted. 

“Sustainability is an important message for European healthy agers, who prefer organic food with natural nutritional benefits to products with health claims,” ​said Wennström. “European healthy agers are starting to look more like millennials.”​ 

Peter Wennström will be presenting the full findings at next week’s Vitafoods in Geneva. 

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