Food ingredients

Food for the elderly: a market surrounded by opportunities

Each stage of human development brings with it new nutritional needs. Some nutrients should be consumed in bigger or smaller amounts, while others should be avoided, regarding the stage of life. Individual conditions of each person may also affect these requirements.

The change in the profile of the elderly around the world is a very important variable in the development of specific foods for this target audience.

With the increase in life expectancy due to advances in medicine, the elderly today have desires, behaviors and aspirations completely different from what this age group used to have.

Therefore;

We need to take a more careful look at this growing market share, which has become increasingly demanding. The food industry still has much to learn about this new reality that will have a direct effect on the R&D sectors.

Because of that, in this blog post we will discuss the nutritional needs of the elderly and how they correlate to the development of specific foods for this market.

Why should the diet of the elderly be different?

Elderly people have very specific needs, which relate to their new physical conditions. Some nutrients need to be strengthened so that these individuals continue to have a healthy and functional life.

The diet of the elderly should be planned in order to keep them healthy, with an adequate weight, providing the necessary energy for daily activities.

It should also be taken into consideration that in this age group the onset of chronic diseases such as heart diseases and diabetes is more common.

So, foods consumed by the elderly also need to be reduced or free from components that accelerate the development of these conditions, such as high content of sugar and saturated fats.

Usually, the diet of the elderly should contain a lower intake of calories, but with a high density of essential nutrients. This requirement varies according to individual needs.

For example: people underweight will need a more caloric diet compared to those who are at normal weight.

At this stage of life, it is common for individuals to have less energy and muscle and joint problems, which lead to a decrease in the frequency of physical activity.

By doing this, the caloric requirement gets lower and muscle mass is lost. This makes the metabolism of the elderly to slow down, decreasing the amount of calories that person needs to ingest daily.

Some people may also have loss of appetite with the increase in age. In addition, the taste and aromatic sense decrease, which can cause the individual to eat less. In more extreme cases, this type of effect can lead to malnutrition.

As a result, it is extremely important that the products developed for the public of this age group are attractive both aesthetically and sensory. All aspects of the product should be thought of in order to arouse the appetite of these consumers.

At more advanced ages it is also common to develop clinical conditions such as hypertension, osteoporosis, high cholesterol and diabetes. The presence of those will also be decisive in shaping the types of foods an elderly person will consume.

The immune system also gets weaker with age, which increases susceptibility to food poisoning. Therefore, with the development of specific products for this target, good manufacturing practices and the use of quality tools such as HACCP are essential.

The nutrients that can’t be left out

Some nutrients must be part of the diet of the elderly and need to be taken into account when formulating food for this market niche. They are:

•  Proteins: this nutrient helps in the synthesis of muscles and strengthens bones, as it is associated with calcium in many foods, such as milk and dairy products. The Food and Nutrition Board recommends a consumption of 0.8 g/kg/day of protein. For the development of formulations, the animal origin proteins are preferred instead of those of vegetal origin, since they contain all the essential amino acids to the development of the body.

•  Calcium and Vitamin D: these nutrients are essential for maintenance of bone health. Daily consumption of 800 mg of calcium is recommended. Some sources of calcium include milk, cereals, fruit juice, and leafy vegetables. Added to that, vitamin D is present in egg yolk and fish such as salmon and tuna. It is recommended the consumption of 7.5 g per day. It is possible to fortify formulations with these nutrients.

•  Vitamin B12: it helps to prevent cardiovascular problems and stroke. It is present in seafood, fish, lean meat and cereals. It is also common to add it in several foods so that the vitamin content is increased.

•  Fiber: it regulates the gut, helps to prevent cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes. Its sources include fruits, vegetables, and cereals.

•  Potassium: it lowers the risk of increased blood pressure. Fruits and vegetables are sources of it.

•  Fat: care must be taken to choose the type of fat to be used when formulating foods for the elderly people, giving preference to fats with low-saturated fatty acids and low trans fat to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Nuts, seeds, avocado and olive oil are sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.

•  Iron: it helps in the transport of oxygen to tissues through hemoglobin and myoglobin. Its deficiency causes anemia. It can be found in red meat, poultry, fish, dried fruits, fortified grains. The daily intake of 9 mg is recommended.

•  Vitamin A: it prevents night blindness. Leafy green vegetables, carrots, and eggs are sources of it.

•  Folic acid: DNA synthesis and amino acid metabolism. Its deficiency causes anemia. Dairy products, eggs, green leafy vegetables, nuts, meat, chicken and seafood are among the main sources of this nutrient. For people over 65 years, it is recommended to consume 300 mg per day. Fortification with folic acid is commonly used in various foods, such as wheat flour, for example.

•  Vitamin C: prevention of the common cold, aid in the absorption of iron and wound healing. The orange and the juice of this fruit are the main sources of it. It is recommended to ingest 60 mg per day. It is also possible to add vitamin C in foods that are being developed so that the consumer gets this nutrient more easily.

 

Market opportunities

Projections indicate that by 2030, one-fifth of the world’s population will be over 60. In addition to the growth of this population, there is a change in the behavior of people over 60 years.

With more divorced people looking for new relationships, going out more, traveling more, retiring later in life, this public also started to demand better options for food.

However, this niche market is still largely neglected by the food industry. Usually, food products for the elderly are unattractive in terms of shape, taste and packaging, resembling a lot of baby food, but for another age group.

Added to this fact is the question already raised about the loss of natural appetite that happens at this stage of life. So, a change in the formulation and packaging of these products is necessary to make them more palatable and visually attractive to the elderly, making the consumption experience more pleasant.

It is necessary to follow the evolution in the behavior of the elderly and to look for new ways of formulating and selling these products. Marketing must show confidence and vitality, characteristics that best represent the wishes of people over 60 years old today.

Regarding formulations, a great option is the production of foods with high protein content. This is already a niche well developed in other segments of the market, however, it is still crawling for product lines aimed at the elderly ones.

Protein rich products are a great market opportunity, since the elderly have a big need to consume high-value proteins to avoid muscle loss.

A successful example is the Yoplait and General Mills Cal-in+ yogurt, which in addition to the high protein content inherent in this type of product, also has the addition of vitamin D and calcium. This yogurt has elderly people as a major target audience. Sales of it rose 18% in Eastern Europe between 2013 and 2015.

Conclusion

The change in the profile of consumers over 60 makes the food industry be, once again, in need to leave its comfort zone to meet the desires and needs of an increasingly active and aware public.

The development of food products for the elderly opens a market niche that has not yet been much explored and with great potential for profitability.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to pay attention to the nutritional needs of the individuals belonging to this group to ensure the production of high quality products and contribute to a healthy and functional life.

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