Energy at the core of healthy aging trend

by Keith Nunes
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A focus on healthy aging is no longer the sole purview of baby boomer and mature consumers. The trend is transcending all demo-graphics as consumers manage their health by looking for sustained energy and focusing on prevention, according to a new report published by the Natural Marketing Institute, Harleysville, Pa. Both trends offer opportunities for food and beverage manufacturers.

“The energy trend has been there for a while,” said Maryellen Molyneaux, president of the N.M.I. “The desire for energy rates very high, in the 60% to 70% range, and consumers are looking for it from the food or beverages they choose.

“While the trend is not new, the fact that it has become ubiquitous is new. But how consumers perceive what it is for and how they define it changes by age. Gen X may say they need energy to take care of their kids, and boomers say they need energy to get through their day.”

Ms. Molyneaux said food and beverage companies should not confuse consumer interest in additional energy with a desire to receive a short jolt from a product followed by a crash.

“It is about the function of foods,” she said. “Consumers are saying they want to live well and they want to live with the energy they need to do what they want to do. I would put it this way: There are a lot of consumers aware of the effect of food on how they feel. Many know that if they don’t eat a good breakfast they are going to be in a slump by 10:30.”

One of the beneficiaries of the focus on energy is protein, Ms. Molyneaux said, because consumers are realizing the ingredient may sustain them longer.

“That goes back to a consumer being able to do what they need to do, because their muscles are stronger,” she said. “It is also one of the driving forces behind the increased demand for Greek yogurt.

“Greek yogurt has boomed. It is the fastest growing area in dairy and it is gaining shelf space. This highlights that there is all kinds of new desires for protein from consumers. It helps the body run efficiently and it helps maintain health. So it is the vital nutrient in the battle against aging.”

She added that protein also crosses over a variety of trends, including weight loss, weight management and satiety.

In April, Clif Bar & Co., Emeryville, Calif., introduced Builder’s Max, a nutrition bar with 30 grams of protein that the company said will aid in muscle growth and recovery. Ms. Molyneaux said the product introduction is just one example of how food and beverage companies are attempting to capitalize on consumer demand for more protein in their diets.

Younger consumers concerned

On Aug. 1, the N.M.I. published the report “2013 U.S.A. trends in healthy aging: A multi-generation perspective.” For the first time, according to the report, the concept of healthy aging, which was once exclusive to baby boomers and mature consumers, is now embraced across the entire demographic spectrum.

Part of the reason for the broadening of the trend is many health issues that once only affected older people, like diabetes and obesity, are now affecting younger consumers.

“There is more credibility to the idea of healthy aging as a foundational groundswell,” Ms. Molyneaux said. “It started with a leader group of consumers who are thinking about what they are putting into their bodies.”

The “leader group” Ms. Molyneaux referred to makes up approximately 17% of the population, according to the N.M.I. They may be defined as early adopting market influencers who are engaged in ensuring their health and wellness.

“They (the leader group) use all methods to manage their health, and that is something that is a misconception,” Ms. Molyneaux said. “It’s not just natural or organic. While they prefer alternatives and are focused on prevention they will also use conventional health care. They are managing the little issues, such as how much sugar or salt they are eating, because they believe it will lead to fewer larger issues like chronic diseases.”

The focus on prevention means younger consumers are looking for more function from their food and beverage products, according to the N.M.I. In addition, the research firm found that younger consumers are more stressed today than they have reported in the past.

“This was a surprise to us and we have been watching it for a few years,” Ms. Molyneaux said.

Ms. Molyneaux associates the rise in stress in younger consumers to the economic recession and technologies that allow consumers to stay connected throughout the day.

“Because of the recession many younger consumers have had to deal with financial pressures, and many have had to be reliant on their parents,” she said. “But they have also grown up in a 24/7 world and having trouble disconnecting. There is a lot of research taking place in this area, because it is believed the inability to disconnect may be a source of stress.”

The N.M.I. has found Generation Y consumers, those born between 1980 and 2000, to be using more supplements to manage their health, have a willingness to try new things, and are influenced by brands. A desire for greater energy also has manifested within this demographic.

“We have seen an increase in demand for healthy aging products from this group,” Ms. Molyneaux said. “Performance is a part of the stress on Gen Y. They want to perform at work and athletics as well as continue to go out late at night. Energy is a preoccupation that creeps into everything, because they are concerned with how they look and perform.

Boomers looking for products for an active, healthy life

Baby boomers in the United States are looking for products such as beverages, nutritional bars and snacks to help them stay healthy and active, according to the dairy cooperative Fonterra, Auckland, New Zealand.

“We found that while the U.S. is the largest market for senior nutrition, it’s also the most polarized,” said Carrie Schroeder, key account manager for nutrition with Fonterra U.S.A. “At the far end of the spectrum we have a large number of ‘unwavering indulgers’ who know they have health issues but are choosing to ignore them. However, the U.S. also over indexes in people who are already active looking for solutions and willing to make real changes to their diet and exercise to achieve health benefits.”

Fonterra studied more than 600 healthy Americans between ages 50 and 75 and found 58% believe the ability to stay active has a greater impact on their health than weight, yet 30% also said they already have weight issues.

Fonterra identified three consumer segments among 57 million boomers. First, active seekers represent boomers who are early to adopt healthy habits and are willing to make changes to their diet for health benefits. This is the most affluent segment with consumers who are engaged in physical activity and knowledge of nutrition. Next, health seekers are boomers who will generally follow in healthy trends and are willing to make some changes in their diet for health benefits. They are engaged in healthy and physical activity and generally do what they can to be healthy.

Finally, open-minded moderates also are followers and are somewhat health-conscious but don’t have the discipline to keep up with a health program. They try to eat well but aren’t always able to and have a moderate knowledge of nutrition.

In general, these consumers are looking for products higher in protein, and Fonterra said adding high-quality dairy protein to foods that already are being consumed will be the easiest way to drive consumption.

Fonterra also said breakfast is the meal most lacking protein and represents the greatest opportunity to increase protein consumption.

Additionally, while one in six boomers are willing to make changes to stay active, nearly 25% of respondents said they were unwilling to make lifestyle changes for health benefits.

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