Food makers have opportunity to address elderly micronutrient needs

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

The UK survey of 450 people aged 50-80 found that 77% did not know whether they were consuming enough selenium.
The UK survey of 450 people aged 50-80 found that 77% did not know whether they were consuming enough selenium.

Related tags: Older adults, Nutrition

Most older adults do not know whether they are consuming enough vitamins and minerals, opening up new opportunities for the food and nutrition industry to address this shortcoming, according to a survey.

The UK survey of 450 people aged 50-80 found that 77% did not know whether they were consuming enough selenium, a key micronutrient crucial for normal enzyme function and hormone secretion.

In addition, 69%, 58% and 47% of respondents did not know if they were getting enough magnesium, vitamin E and the B vitamins, respectively.

The survey results presented at the Food Matters Live event in London suggested a need for a more balanced diet for the elderly, whose changing physiology and nutritional needs pose a unique challenge for food makers.

In a presentation entitled ‘Responding to the challenges of an ageing population,’ Sarah Chapman, product development specialist for Campden BRI Group, outlined food design approaches that met the nutritional needs for this group.

She said this need would be better met with ingredients naturally high in nutrients rather than fortifying products with micronutrients like potassium, magnesium, selenium and vitamin D that the elderly were considered deficient in. 

Inform and educate

Sarah Chapman
Sarah Chapman, Product Development Specialist for Campden BRI. ©CampdenBRI

She highlighted a lack of knowledge about nutrient deficiency, which could be addressed by initiatives designed to educate and inform what adjustments need to be made in this age range.

“Food makers have a chance to respond to the challenging demographic changes that have seen the over 65s become fastest growing segment of the UK,”​ she said. “This population is expected to increase 15 million by 2030.”

“The results of the survey show that younger (age 50-60) adults are more willing to trial products that benefit health than older (age 71-80) adults older adults, with more concern shown for future rather than current health needs.”

While this age bracket may not be an attractive demographic for food makers, it has been shown​that older adult European consumers are open to functional foods to address health issues such as bone health.

Additional research​ has pointed out that consumer choice of older women is motivated by preventative health measures and maintaining current health.

The presentation was part of a series of talks discussing an ageing population and the trends and opportunities it offered.

One of these talks focused on ageing consumers and sports nutrition. The presenter, Evelin Biffar, head of R&D at nutrition firm Nutrineo, agreed that while older adults were a neglected consumer group, they were becoming more significant.

“Marketing efforts are typically focused on younger consumers,”​ she said. “However, today’s 55+ consumers are not just conservative and inactive. As life expectancy increases, so does the age group.”

Statistics cited by a German study in 2013, revealed that 44% of retirees over 66 years regularly participated in sport such as hiking, fitness, biking, swimming, running or walking.

Nutrineo — a private label producer of ready-to-drink (RTD) and powder-products — highlighted the muscle wasting condition sarcopenia amongst the elderly, in which malnutrition is accompanied by protein deficiency.

The elderly often have a reduced protein intake due to factors like reduced appetite. This is despite the required amount increasing as individuals get older.

Don’t mention age

Interestingly, both presentations highlighted that this demographic was best reached through branding efforts that did not emphasise their age.

Dr Biffar pointed out that elderly people were addressed in adverts with the use of older actors but actual product information did not mention its suitability for an older consumer.

“When considering the design of foods for an ageing population, be careful how you target products – do not remind people they are old!”​ added Campden’s Sarah Chapman.

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