For the first time in history, across the globe people aged over 65 now outnumber children under five, according to the UN. By the middle of this century there will be more than twice as many. In Europe, the population of over 65s is expected to reach almost 150 million by 2050.
These facts very clearly present massive opportunities for the food industry to capitalise on the specific needs of what is a rapidly expanding, and often affluent, consumer group keen to explore foods associated with slower cognitive decline.
Are we making the most of these opportunities?
According to a recent report from Barclays, the food industry should do more to meet the nutritional needs of the ageing population. It complains the number of new products launched that cater to ‘silver surfers’ and ‘baby boomers’ pales in comparison to NDP targeting trendy millennials or Generation Zers. “The narrative on ageing needs to evolve. Living longer, healthier lives will impact people of all ages and there are many opportunities for the nutrition industry in particular to adapt these offerings,” said Barclay’s head of sustainable and thematic investing, Hiral Patel.
How to commercialise healthy ageing products
Anu Turpeinen, nutrition research manager at Finnish company Valio, told the FoodNavigator 2021 Digital Summit: Positive Nutrition that the food industry should look to the health and beauty industry as an example of how to commercialise healthy ageing products.
“The beauty and personal care industry has established a successful business model for healthy ageing, with products containing premium ingredients in elegant packaging with positive language,” she said. “The fashion industry has started featuring older adults in ads enjoying life, and the food industry could do the same. We could take ownership of being part of the solution to enjoy life to the maximum as an older adult. There is ample scientific evidence on the important of nutrition in healthy ageing and there are verified health claims to utilise in food products for heathy ageing.”
Food sector advertising should embrace quickly shifting attitudes towards ageing, she suggested. Research, for example, suggests people get happier with age. "What ageing means is rapidly changing and the perception of ageing is changing. 60 is the now the new 40.”
The growing cohorts of older consumers are also increasingly willing and able to spend on food products associated with healthy ageing.
“People naturally have concerns about ageing: a decline on cognitive functions, loss of independence, dementia...thus ageing adults are willing to invest in innovations that help them maintain their cognitive health and remain independent,” she said.
‘What we eat effects longevity’
Turpeinen told listeners that the food and nutrition industries have significant means to enable healthy ageing.
While genetics and environment play their part in allowing a person to age healthily, one of the most significant factors is food and nutrition, she said. "All though the foundations for good health are laid during early life there's, plenty of evidence from epidemiological studies and clinical interventions shows clearly that what we eat effects the quality of life also in later years.”
Importance of protein, vitamins and minerals
Nutrition experts recommend that elderly people should increase their protein intake compared to younger adults. Meanwhile, the absorption of some vitamins diminishes with age. In many countries, vitamin and mineral intakes, for example calcium and vitamins B and D, are insufficient in elderly populations.
Valio therefore believes its dairy products are well placed to prevent nutritional deficiencies and help physical and cognitive functioning during ageing.
“Dairy is a great example of a nutrient-dense high-quality protein source,” said Turpeinen. Milk protein contains all the 9 essential amino acids which the human body is not able to synthesis and which we have to obtain from food. Dairy protein is also absorbed efficiently, and the body can utilise it almost completely.
Dairy fat also contains the milk fat globule membrane (MFGM), a unique component of milk with phospholipids and other complex liquids. Research suggests that in the elderly, phospholipids supplementation may restore and maintain cognitive functions, such as memory, concentration, understanding and problem solving.
Turpeinen revealed that Valio's solution targeting older consumers is a formulated milk powder product which contains the same whey/casein ratio as in milk. It also contains phospholipids, vitamins A, B and D and minerals to support activity and cognition.
"It's also lactose-free for better digestive comfort as these issues may become more common during ageing,” she said.
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