The right nutrition for the golden years: Space for personalization

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11 Jun 2018 --- Medical interventions and overall improved standards of living are causing us to live longer than previous generations. However, since the aging process is accompanied by a host of physiological changes, extra attention needs to be given to the appropriate nutrition and lifestyle standards. NutritionInsight speaks with a number of key suppliers about the unique needs of aging consumers.

Changing tastes and needs
A strong argument in favor of targeting seniors as a group regarding nutrition is the fact that age-related conditions, such as a reduction of taste, smell and overall appetite, as well as limited mobility, can prevent seniors from achieving the adequate nutrient intake.

“With age, we lose appetite and taste. And so the first risk is not eating enough food and not having enough energy absorbed to maintain our basic metabolism. When elderly people eat less, they have greater difficulty in finding essential nutrients,” says Walter Lopez, Nutritionist at Limagrain Céréales Ingrédients.

“The majority of seniors worldwide don’t consume sufficient quantities of the essential micronutrients. In fact, only 50 percent of elderly Americans currently meet the requirements for vitamin A, 40 percent for vitamin C and up to 75 percent for vitamin E,” says Peter van Dael, Senior Vice President, Nutrition Science & Advocacy, DSM Nutritional Products. 

Nutritional frailty in the elderly population can also be the result of a weaker metabolic system since nutrient bioavailability decreases as the body ages.

“This should be a key consideration when advising seniors on nutritional interventions, as they will often need high intakes to maintain a good status, while the quality of any nutrients which are added to fortified foods or supplements becomes even more important,” he adds.

 “Although nutrient needs vary widely in the aging, it is generally established that the following nutrients may be in greater demand: the bone nutrients calcium, vitamins A, C, D, fluoride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and protein,” says Jacqueline B. Marcus, an international award-winning registered Dietitian/Nutritionist based in Chicago. “Some aging people may also need more iron and zinc if their protein intake is poor, if they have decreased gastric acidity (that may impair iron absorption), or if they have chronic blood loss from gastrointestinal disorders, and especially more zinc to improve immune function.”

On top of this, Marcus notes that antioxidant vitamins A, C and E, as well as folate, may also be beneficial to help guard against diseases and boost overall immunity.

A matter of communication
However, despite obvious nutritional needs accompanying the aging process, the number of new product launches featuring aging claims has been low across the globe. Innova Market Insights data has shown a CAGR decrease in new product launches (food and beverages and supplements) targeting the aging consumer between 2013 and 2017 of -9.4 percent. Moreover, the market researcher’s data show that although Asia appears to be ahead of other areas regarding marketing directly to seniors, the use of the word “senior” in supplement product names and descriptions is rare when compared to the total number of global launches. 

“Nobody likes to be considered old and it is therefore difficult to position a product ‘for seniors’ if no one considers themselves as seniors,” Lopez says. 

“Caution should be taken in terms of how supplements are marketed to seniors: consumers tend not to appreciate being presented with the health concerns they have every day but rather prefer to see a positive image of people being active,” says Lay Kwan Goh, Head of Global Marketing at BASF Human Nutrition. 

An active strategy
Although new product activity directly marketed at the aging population is slow, we are seeing an increase in products aimed at maintaining an active, healthy lifestyle, with for example sports nutrition products now being marketed to a broader audience.

“There is more interest in supplements that benefits several health areas – like muscle health, cognition and circulation – without the need of using multiple products or taking more pills,” explains Sébastien Bornet, VP Global Sales & Marketing at Horphag Research.

“We also see a trend in the way solutions rather than concerns are highlighted as no one likes to be reminded of the problem every day. It is vital to help seniors feel good and to develop products and messages that give them confidence in knowing they can actively do something for their health and have a positive impact on their lifestyle to give more life to years,” Goh notes.

A pertinent example of such an area solution moving away from highlighting specific “problems” is an increased product activity around the concept of mobility, an idea that touches on joint and bone health as well as the maintenance of muscle strength. According to Innova Market Insights, products featuring mobility claims accounted for almost 17 percent of all supplements tracked globally between 2013 and 2017. 

Click to EnlargeFocus on the Heart
Although again not just targeted toward aging consumers, heart health remains an area of high growth in Europe with a stronger increase in launches being seen in the food & beverage space, albeit from a small base. Innova Market Insights data show that although European food & beverages product launches with a heart health claim only represent less than 1 percent of the total launches they are growing at a faster rate than supplements with an annual average growth of +17 percent. Part of this relates to products providing benefits for cholesterol reduction/management based on beta glucans, plant sterols or omega 3. Supplements with a heart health claim are also growing but at a slower pace (+5.4 percent CAGR), and in 2017 nearly 1 in 10 European supplement launches tracked featured a heart health claim.

According to a presentation made by the market researcher at this year’s Vitafoods Europe, “there is a trend towards combining heart health claims with other health claims, with a brain-mood health combination proving to be the most prolific.” When looking at the secondary claims being made, what stands out is it that 46 percent of heart health claims with a secondary claim featured brain-mood health claims in 2017 compared to just over 30 percent in 2013. Just under 30 percent featured an eye health claim, which is also a primary aging concern, while over 7 percent featured a blood pressure reduction claims. Moreover, senior consumers’ particular physical conditions should inform not just the appropriate type or combination of nutrients, but also how these are presented.

“Aging is often accompanied by a loss of appetite and changes in taste and smell, general oral health decline and a reduced ability to swallow. Hence, at BASF’s Newtrition, we are constantly exploring applications that steer away from traditional dietary supplement formats such as tablets and capsules and adapt to easier to swallow or drinkable formats such as liquids, gels, shots and emulsions,” Goh explains. 

Since certain seniors may experience mobility and vision constraints, shopping for food, lifting heavy jars or opening containers can become increasingly difficult. 

“As such, individual serves, large print on labels with easy to open packaging will make supplementation more convenient for consumers in this age group,” says Goh.

Forward-looking
Personalized nutrition has become somewhat of a buzzword in the industry over the past year and could find its application in targeting senior consumers.

“More precise recommendations for nutritional amounts are needed for older age groups, due to the differences in physiology between the 65-and-over versus 85-and-over populations. Most reports merge all older adults into the 65-and-over category, but is this appropriate? There are significant variations between ‘old older persons’ and ‘young older persons’ with genetic imperatives making a tremendous difference as well,” explains Goh.

“As more people start recognizing the importance of more personalized approaches to maintaining optimal health through the life course, there is an opportunity to incorporate targeted supplements for different age groups,” van Dael notes. “With growing numbers of healthcare providers now including nutrition into preventative care models, DSM is working to support the adoption of a wide range of diagnostic tools, including screenings and dietary assessments. Such approaches can play an important role in helping to identify micronutrient deficiencies and, ultimately, prevent the onset of certain diseases. There is also a rising trend towards medical nutrition, where nutritional products are specifically designed for definitive medical conditions and prescribed to the elderly under professional recommendations.”

Clearly, an active 75-year-old is going to have very different needs than one who exercises only occasionally or one who has lost most mobility, which also points to options for segmented NPD, rather than the use of blanket terms and products covering all consumers above a certain age. 

This report is an adjusted version of an article set to appear in the June edition of The World of Food Ingredients.

By Lucy Gunn

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