With a reduced sensitivity to flavour profiles, issues opening food packages, food textures felt differently due to saliva changes, the senior consumer demographic presents challenges for food manufacturers. There are overlooked opportunities too as older people have more free time, meaning food has the potential to play an important part in their day-to-day lives.
Yet scientists from Wageningen University say studies into this area are limited, and have so far tended to focus on improving flavour, sidelining other sensory aspects.
They call for more work to determine how multi-sensory enrichment could increase liking through factors such as brand names, labels, packaging or past experiences as well as changes in texture and appearance - and corresponding tailor-made food products to follow.
"The food industry needs to deal with the effects of age on the perception and liking of their foods to be able to develop and offer food products that meet the needs and wants of the senior consumer."
But to do so, science needs to keep up.
"Better insight into the factors that affect food perception in independently living seniors will help us to develop new food products that support older people to eat a healthy diet,” says co-author Esmée Doets.
Data taken from a 30,000-strong global survey from Nielsen market research found that Europe is lagging behind in this area – surprising for a region that is ageing so rapidly.
“In a region that includes nine of the world’s top ten fastest-ageing countries, the European report card for many products, services and store amenities that cater to an older demographic needs significant improvement."
The same survey found that more than half of the Europeans surveyed said they have trouble finding products that are easy to read (61%) and are clearly labelled with nutritional information (53%).
Nearly half (46%) can’t locate foods that meet special dietary needs or are offered in smaller-sized portions.
The social element: A golden opportunity
Meanwhile, according to senior vice president of consumer and shopper insights at Nielsen, Todd Hale, food manufacturers should take into account the social situation of retirees.
“When thinking about the shopping needs of an older demographic, we sometimes forget that seniors live active social lives and enjoy entertaining with family and friends."
He says there are golden opportunities for marketers to align products and services not just with nutritional and medical needs, but their social desires too. Nielsen data shows that baking related goods perform better for this age group than others.
The Nielsen report said:"With dollar volume indexes significantly higher than the expected norm of 100 (and in some cases more than double the average) for pie crust mixes (233), canned peaches (229) and cherries (187), canned pudding pie filling (160), canned pie and pastry filling (160), coffee cake mixes (160) and frozen whipped toppings (151), manufacturers and retailers should consider cross-merchandising opportunities."
But product marketers need to be careful about the positioning they go for – although keen for products to meet their needs, consumers don’t necessarily want to be reminded they are ageing.
Canadean analyst, Kirsty Nolan, says: “The key thing is that products are not seen to patronise older consumers by specifically referencing them [...], instead references need to be subtle.”
Source: Food Quality and Preference
First available online August 2015, doi:10.1016/j.foodqual.2015.08.010
"The silver sensory experience - a review of senior consumers' food perception, liking and intake."
Authors: E. L. Doets, S. Kremer