Choose traditional product formats for seniors' protein needs, say researchers

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/gpointstudio
© GettyImages/gpointstudio
Senior consumers tend to be less willing to try novel food products and so healthy but traditional formats are best for protein-fortified foods, according to recent research.

Dutch and Danish researchers have found that older consumers are most willing to taste and buy high-protein products if they are healthy and can be used in traditional meal formats.

The study, which was supported by the University of Copenhagen's program for interdisciplinary research through the project ‘CALM - Counteracting age-related loss of skeletal muscle mass’, aimed to determine the best product development strategies for food formulators.

"Developing successful new functional products for older consumers presents several challenges, ranging from sensory changes and often a reduced palatability associated with protein-enrichment to the diverse and often negative attitudes towards novel foods and beverages amongst this consumer segment," ​they wrote.

“This consumer group tends to be neophobic and less willing to purchase novel products, which raises the challenge of how to make such functional products familiar enough to easily be incorporated in consumers’ existing dietary practices."

They concluded: “The results showed that older consumers were most willing to try healthy, traditional meal-component foods enriched with protein."

In the study, the researchers recruited 182 individuals with a mean age of 66 who took part in a survey designed to evaluate their willingness to try and buy 16 target ‘food carriers’ for protein enrichment.

The researchers selected ‘carriers’ that had three varying dimensions: healthiness (healthy vs. unhealthy), novelty (traditional vs. novel), and types of meal (meal-component vs. snack).

Consumers were asked to what extent they thought the product type was appropriate for protein-enrichment; whether they would be willing to buy and try it; and how often would they buy it if they were satisfied with the taste and price.

Participants were offered foods such as:

Unhealthy, traditional meal components: French fries and sauces

Unhealthy, novel snacks: Nacho chips and ice cream bars.

Healthy, traditional meal components: Bread and milk

Healthy, traditional snacks: Rye crackers and cheese cubes.

Healthy, novel meal products: Plant-based meat substitute and soy milk

Healthy, novel snacks: Muesli bars and yoghurt drinks

Personalised protein

The survey revealed that general interest in protein-enriched products among older adults was low in both Denmark and the Netherlands.

However, consumers’ purchase willingness increased “substantially​” when the protein-enriched foods were tailored to them.

“[This] suggests that the market segmentation and targeting approach would be beneficial for product development within this product category​,” they write.

 Single older men were significantly more positive towards protein-enriched products than women.

The perceived appropriateness of the products also correlated strongly with intended willingness to purchase. “Therefore, promoting target consumers' willingness to trial purchase should be an essential step to increase the success of protein-enriched products,” ​the authors write.

They suggest that allowing consumers to taste appealing protein-enriched foods in real life might reduce their scepticism towards such products.

Several studies have previously suggested that certain consumers may prefer unhealthy foods as carriers for functional ingredients, possibly because unhealthy carriers would get more benefits from nutritional improvements. However, in this study the researchers found that older consumers preferred a healthy positioning. 

Source: Appetite Journal

“Older consumers' attitudes towards food carriers for protein-enrichment”

Available online ahead of print,

Authors:  Xiao Song, Federico J.A. Pérez-Cueto, Susanne M. Bølling et al. 

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