Food manufacturers and marketers rely on consumer demographics to successfully develop and market functional foods and beverages. A healthy diet contributes to healthy aging; however, on average as people grow older, their sense of smell diminishes, which affects flavor perception from foods, which can negatively affect their appreciation and consumption of food. For this reason, tailor-made products and interventions are needed to improve the quality and quantity of the food intake of seniors, according to a study published in the journal Food Quality and Preference.
“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", said lead author Esmée Doets, Ph.D., at Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research.
Researchers would like to see more consumer research into the effects of product improvements combining flavor, texture and appearance. In 2014, Food & Biobased Research conducted a study, which showed that a combination of sensory improvements allowed seniors to appreciate food products more. The literature study clearly shows that so far, research on product improvements for older people mainly focused on flavor enhancement strategies. Little attention was paid to the effect of the other sensory aspects.
Independently living senior consumers like their food as much as younger people, although the way they perceive food products does change. Factors other than sensory aspects of the food most likely play a role, but little is known about this. The researchers believe that the memories and emotions that certain products evoke, and the social context in which food is eaten, may play a role. Aspects relating to packaging may also be important, such as the information given, the design and the ease of opening.
Besides the observation that only little data about the food perception of seniors exist, the literature study highlights that most of the studies on food liking among seniors are based on tasting small amounts of a food product.
“A person’s appreciation of a product often changes the more he/she consumes," Doets said. “If you ask someone how much he or she enjoyed a particular product, the answer after one bit or sip may be very different from the answer after an entire portion. And if you ask the same question a few hours later, you may receive yet another answer. There is very little research of this kind among older people, despite the fact that studies like this are probably a good indicator for whether they would choose a product again."
The researchers suggest others involved in the design of new research into food perception among independently-living seniors: define the specific target group first, and match the product to the perception of food in this group.
The Aging Population
Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, number 83.7 million and account for 44 percent of the households with annual incomes of more than $75,000, representing a significant amount of disposable income and purchasing power.
Health and wellness products can be aligned to the specific health positioning they benefit and offer the potential to aid in the management of a number of chronic diseases that impact healthy life expectancy, including cardiovascular and heart disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis and arthritis, macular degeneration and more.
In 2013, Innova Market Insights, Duiven, The Netherlands, identified the top five health claims for functional foods and drinks marketed to older consumers as digestive/gut health, energy/alertness, heart health and immune health.
“These have general appeal among the wider population. But there are other, more specific opportunities in age-related concerns that are currently featured much less often in product claims, including brain/cognitive health, bone health, skin health, joint health and eye health," noted Innova Market Insights’ Chief Editor, Robin Wyers.
Collectively valued at $22 billion in 2012, bone and joint health, cardiovascular health, brain health and memory, and eye health can specifically target the aging population and offer opportunities to widen manufacturers' functional food and beverage portfolios, according to Eurromonitor’s 2013 “Opportunities to Target the Ageing Through Functional Food and Drink" report.
To read more about how product developers are creating functional foods for various age groups, download the free “Functional Foods & Beverages" Digital Issue.