Checking the pulse of the 50+ category

Checking the pulse of the 50+ category

We present an overview of this growing category and what consumers want to see on store shelves.

By Allison Tannis, BSc MSc RHN


More than half of consumer spending comes from one group – the baby boomers. The youngest of the baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1965) turn 50 this year. It is now the largest generational group, consisting of about 9.6 million Canadians or about one third of our population, according to the 2011 Census.

According to a population projection by Statistics Canada, in 2036, the population of Canadians aged 65 years or over would represent between 23 to 25 per cent of the population, surpassing the number of children aged 14 and under, which is the first time that has happened in the history of the Canadian population. Boomers are also the population group with the largest consumer spending, making it important to keep a check on the pulse of this group to achieve success at retail level.


The pulse of the 50+ category

Potentially the most widely varied population segment, 50+ consumers include those who are active healthy individuals wanting to maintain youth and vitality, independently living seniors, and those in assisted living situations. Each of these groups has different nutritional requirements, purchasing influences and eating habits. As well, many 50+ consumers have at least one chronic condition with more than a quarter being affected by a combination of chronic conditions. According to a 2010 National Marketing Institute report, the main health concerns of 50+ consumers include arthritis, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, vision and cognition.

An opportunity to increase sales at retail exists by offering products that address key health concerns of the 50+ category. This not only includes addressing the main health concerns highlighted in the report, however also products that address joint and bone health, digestive regularity, immunity, pain relief, beauty, anti-aging and energy.

Successful retailers have noted their 50+ consumers’ health concerns and catered to them. “The number one issue for women is insomnia…primarily stress and menopause related. Many of our male 50+ clients are looking for prostate and libido supplements,” reports Sharon Kite, supplements manager at Rainbow Foods in Ottawa. Solutions to male menopause, also called andropause, are also coming up more frequently in consumer requests.

In Calgary, Community Natural Foods reports their most popular supplements among 50+ consumers include those for bone health (calcium-magnesium-vitamin D formulas, vitamin K, strontium), ocular health (bilberry, lutein), heart health (CoQ10, hawthorne) and cognitive function.


Boomers don’t want to age 

This category’s desire to restore their health includes defying aging. The past decade has seen a significant increase in the number of products among all categories that boast anti-aging claims. Even hair colourants, the only sub-category in hair care to see growth in 2012, accounts for 15 per cent of new hair care product, according to Mintel’s Anti-Aging Skincare Report from February 2014. According to a report by Global Industry Analysts Inc., anti-aging products that include natural or organic ingredients such as vitamin E or botanical herbs are rising in popularity.

The anti-aging category is only expected to grow. The global market for anti-aging products for appearance enhancement is expected to grow to $5 billion U.S. by 2015. Consumers that make up the 50+ category today are going to be consumers for a long time yet: estimates from Statistics Canada say the population will continue to live longer with more than 17,000 Canadians expected to be centenarians (over 100 years of age) by 2031.


Teach me

According to a 2014 study reported in Nutrition Journal, awareness and knowledge were identified as the factors that would cause the greatest increase in functional food consumption among older adults. Many products sold at health food retail locations are functional foods. In a 2013 study reported in the Journal of Nutrition Gerontology and Geriatrics, 93 per cent of older adults were consumers of functional foods, and over 85 per cent indicated that they would consume more functional foods if they were to learn more about them.

The 50+ consumer wants more information, and will buy more if they can become more informed. Increasing access to information and awareness of both functional foods and supplements has been the formula of success for some health food retailers. Rainbow Foods has put effort in their reputation as a trustworthy information source by educating staff, offering a selection of high-quality supplements and foods, and engaging customers in conversations about their needs.

Keri-Lyn Butts, assistant manager at Community Natural Foods says, “it’s even part of our motto to have the most educated customers and staff in the industry. Education is a huge portion of what we do. We offer public seminars…once we even offered bone density testing and had a practitioner there to answer questions.”

Other retailers are using electronic education to increase their appeal to 50+ consumers. Organic Garage’s Vitamin Information Kiosk, or VIK, an information centre of the store’s design, allows customers to research vitamins and supplements based on the product or brand, while Shopper’s Drug Mart has created an online resource called Vitamin Finder to help consumers find information about vitamins, minerals and other supplements. “More and more people are finding their health information online, so it’s important to get it from a trusted source,” reports Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacist Christine Yu. “The Life Brand Vitamin Finder makes information about vitamins, minerals, supplements and natural health products easily accessible, and this is a great complement to speaking with a pharmacist in store or on the phone.”

Some statistics suggest the fastest growing demographic on Twitter is 55 to 64 years of age and 45 to 54 years on Facebook, retailers could be leveraging social media to capture customers’ interest. Social media is most effective if communications are frequent, high quality and engaging. Consultants specializing in nutritional marketing and communications can help retailers produce high quality educational content for social media. Then, retailers can easily sprinkle in a few posts about in-store promotions, sales or events. Successfully engaging the 50+ consumer group online can enticed them to shop at your retail location.


Hot and trendy in the lab

Over the past few decades, there have not been new health concerns in this age group, leaving trends in this category to emerge from the laboratories instead. What’s happening in research labs around the world? Alison Duncan, Professor of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Guelph notes there are four areas of nutritional science worth watching with regards to the 50+ category: dietary fiber, omega-3s and vitamin D.

“Dietary fiber is already accepted as a healthy food by older adults thanks to well-documented proof of its role in digestive health and prevention of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer,” says Duncan. Fiber has the potential to be quickly accepted by consumers, resulting in rapid movement of products in the marketplace.

Omega-3s are famous for their cognitive benefits with new research is still emerging. EPA and DHA present high health potential at a low intake.

Most seniors are at risk of vitamin D deficiency as there are not a lot of sources of vitamin D and we tend to avoid the sun. “You don’t see a lot of people ordering milk in restaurants. There is more than skeletal health benefits to vitamin D. New research is finding links between vitamin D consumption and diabetes risk,” she says.

At retail, “PQQ [pyrroloquinoline quinone] is an exciting, up and coming product,” according to Butts. The excitement stems from research studies, suggesting pyrroloquinoline quinone could help prevent cognitive decline and other age-related problems. Pyrroloquinoline quinone’s anti-aging benefits could be due to its ability to beneficially affect mitochondria, decreases markers of inflammation and acts as an antioxidant in humans according to a 2013 study in Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.


Catering to older consumers

Is your retail location meeting the needs of this aging category? Older consumers have special nutritional needs, dexterity limitations and desire small-sized food portions. They want products with easy-to-read labels, clearly marked for dietary restrictions and easy to open. According to Nielsen, 45 per cent of consumers believe most retail locations are not catering to the needs of older consumers.

Consider aisles dedicated to aging-need products, handicap checkout lanes, electrical shopping carts and offering assistance with grocery bags. Such needs may be seen more drastically in urban areas, as Statistics Canada research shows a general population movement from rural to urban areas.


Maximizing retail success

Successful merchandizing of any product includes clean lines, clear signage and effective cross promoting. Creating a 50+ section in your retail location could help communicate to this powerful group of consumers that you have their needs in mind. To do this, create a clean, professional sign to help customers find your 50+ section. Within the category, use smaller signs to highlight sections of the shelf that contain products for the top health concerns of aging Canadians. Consider merchandizing products in combinations such as: greens powders, chia and probiotics for anti-aging smoothies; melatonin and essential oils for stress or insomnia; or oil of oregano, probiotics, natural hand soap and pure organic juices for immunity.

Not ready to take that leap yet? Start by creating a smaller feature on an end aisle, near the store entrance, or by the cash register and highlight key products of interest to the 50+ consumer.

Retailers report an upward trend in purchases of insomnia and stress related products, whole food multivitamins, functional foods (greens, maca, chia), probiotics, iron and silica by 50+ consumers. Maximize your sales to this powerful consumer group by cross-promoting products, creating effective displays and educating your staff.

Look outside your store’s doors to community groups, festivals, clubs and recreational organizations that cater to the 50+ demographic. Engaging with them can attract more of this lucrative category to your store.

With strong purchasing power and an average household income over $60,000, the 50+ category is an important market. “Customers are recognizing that taking a proactive approach to maintain their health is better,” says Butts.

Both manufacturers and retailers can successfully capture this market by keeping in touch with the pulse of this category, educating their consumer and watching emerging trends.


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