The Market Of The Senior Consumer – A Challenge For The Packaged Goods Industry

End of last year Tetra Pak launched its Consumer Generations White Paper on “Seniors”, which analyses consumers by their age, needs and spending habits. It investigates senior consumer trends in the food and beverage market and identifies product opportunities for producers.
I had the pleasure to be invited for the accompanied round-table held at Tetra Pak’s regional headquarters in Denton, Texas/USA, to discuss with an international group of influencers and journalists topics like the “Behaviour and consumer trends for seniors (incl. design and packaging trends). Needless to say, it was an interesting discussion with professional views from all over the world.

Click image to download white-paper in pdf

But before we come to various discussed packaging related topics, let’s have a look at the senior market first, so that we know what we are talking about.

The Senior Consumer Market
According to the United Nations, by 2050 more than 22% of the world’s population will be aged 60 and over, compared with just 8% today. They are the fastest-growing consumer age-group around the world. They have an increasing share of income compared with other demographics, and an increasingly high spending power, which amounts to USD 10tn by 2020.

It is curious to see that, according to Euromonitor/AT Kearney, in spite of the fact that for example in the US, the disposable income of those aged 55-64 is twice that of the under 25s, food and beverage brands appear to be giving less attention to the Seniors and instead focus on products aimed at younger generations.

Seniors shop more often, tend to shop closer to home, and in smaller stores. They demand greater quality in whatever they consume, and many are more loyal when it comes to sticking with the brands they trust.
They prefer traditional tastes to ‘experimental’ ones. And they want their packages to look and feel traditional as well, rather than appear overly radical or to be ‘different for different’s sake.’

Senior shoppers in Japan

Seniors look for products and ways of shopping that are more focused on their particular needs. Consequently they want to see packaging clearer and easier to use. They prefer products and packaging that are subtle: ones that are ageless but appeal indirectly to their demographic, rather than those that appear directly targeted at them because of their age.

In short it`s crucial, that packaging has to meet the specific Seniors’ needs, be of a high quality, and clearly demonstrate how the product they contain promote a healthy lifestyle. Furthermore packages have to be easy to handle, easy to open and easy to read. And preferably they have to be made of clear, transparent material, so that the senior can see the product before they buy it.

Topic 1: Easy-Opening
From all over the world the same complaint about the difficulties seniors have opening a packaging is predominant. Half of those aged over 65 report difficulty opening products. Or as Dr Alison Bell of the University of Wollongong/Australia voiced it “These people are angry about the daily difficulties they experience with food and beverage packaging”.

And still the pace of change on supermarket shelves is “glacially slow“.
“There are certainly more examples of ‘easy open’ packaging around in supermarkets than there were say five years ago”, said Dr Alaster Yoxall, Sheffield Hallam University, UK. “Yet, the bulk of the work has been done in medical packaging thus far. For everyday products: There’s still a long, long way to go”.

92% of Germans over 50s have problems opening packaging, 57% react to this dissatisfaction with a brand change.
German company Sanner developed a senior-friendly supplement packaging, which is designed to have an easy-remove warranty band and can be opened with one hand.

But the topic of easy-opening goes far beyond the requirements of the elderly people. As Swedish designer Lars Wallentin argued “The improvements most needed are not ones aimed square at the elderly, rather at the general market”. An argument Dr. Bell agrees with by stating that universal design principals such as packaging which can be easily opened by the widest range of consumers – from the very young to the very old, able to disabled – is the way industry should be thinking.

Topic 2: Smaller Packaging
There are reasonable arguments for offering elderly consumers smaller food and beverage packages, including single-serving packs. Many of these consumers live alone or in smaller households than when they were younger. They also may be watching their portion sizes for health reasons.

Single slice quiche from Frank Dale Foods

Consequently, due to their diminished eyesight, designing packaging for elderly consumers can be a balancing act, with two of the most important design elements – text legibility and packaging size – at odds. Although smaller food and beverage packs offer the advantages of portion control, convenience, freshness and reduced waste, the flipside of the coin is that the smaller the package, the smaller the canvas for product information and branding.
The tension is especially noticeable in food, beverage, prescription-drug and over-the-counter (OTC) pharmaceutical packaging.

Topic 3: Technology
Marketing to seniors should also include today’s technology. There’s a widely accepted misconception that seniors are technophobes. That’s far beside reality. It is known that 74-year-olds are the fastest growing demographic on social networks, according to Forbes. EMarketer claims 60% of American seniors are online, compared to 80% of adults as a whole.

Besides the above mentioned topics the following points have to be considered when designing a packaging for the senior market:
•  Packages need to be lightweight to enable better holding.
•  Round cross-sections are also easier for Seniors to hold than those with a square cross-section.
•  Packaging material needs to be firm so it is easier to grip and prevents spillage.
• Packaging needs to be better able to preserve a longer shelf life, to require fewer shopping trips.
• Nutritional information and the product’s expiration date should be displayed prominently.

The conclusion is the food and drink packaging industry has to meet head-on the challenge to develop products that better meet the needs of the senior consumer, while keeping those products relevant for other age groups.

However the general impression was that despite years of talking about changing demographics and the relevance of the ageing population, consumer packaged goods manufacturers tend stick to brand reputation as the biggest driver for change, and not the ageing consumer.

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