The ageing population: impact on the food and grocery industry

Date : 20 April 2010
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- The Ageing Population - Provide accessible parking - Provide excellent customer service at the tills - Communicate the link between local food and the local economy - Continue to develop innovative and tasty healthier products - What next?

The ageing population

The UK's population is forecast to grow from 62.3 million in 2010 to 73 million in 2035. In part, this growth is being driven by an ageing population.

In March 2012 the Office for National Statistics reported that the proportion of the UK population aged under 16 had dropped from 25% in 1971 to 19% in 2010.

At the same time, the proportion of the population aged 65 or over had risen to 17% in 2010 from 13% in 1971.

This trend is projected to continue. By 2035, 23% of the population will be aged 65 or over, compared with 18% of the population that will be aged 16 or younger.

UK Population Age Structure

UK Population Age Structure

Source: Office for National Statistics; General Register for Scotland; Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency Mid-year estimates for 1971 to 2008, 2008-based projections for 2031.

The fastest population growth has been among those aged 85 and over, often known as the 'oldest old'. In 2010 there were 1.4 million people aged 85 or over, double the number in 1985 when there were 700,000.

By 2035 the number of people aged 85 or over is projected to more than double again to reach 3.5 million, and to account for 5% of the total population.

Many of these older people lead highly active lifestyles, benefiting from increased life expectancy, higher levels of disposable income and improved healthcare. Retirement is no longer a brief period at the end of life, but one that can last for many years.

However, retirement does not mean a high standard of living for everyone. There is considerable polarisation in terms of wealth and life satisfaction among this major sector of the population, reflecting the differences in lifestyle enjoyed by those on the basic state pension only and those who have made additional financial savings.

But what does this increase in the numbers of older consumers mean for food and beverage manufacturers and retailers?

Provide accessible parking

Retailers should continue to ensure there are sufficient car parking spaces available for older shoppers to enable easy access to the store.

When it comes to deciding where they will shop, convenience plays an important role for the over 65s. Three quarters of those aged 65 and over rate ease of parking as extremely or very important to them when choosing their main store. This compares with fewer than three in five under 35s who say the same.

Provide excellent customer service at the tills

The increased focus on value demanded by many shoppers should not come at the expense of customer service. Older shoppers place more importance on customer service, with three in five rating it as extremely or very important as a driver of store choice, compared with about half of those aged under 55.

One of the top ranking improvements that older shoppers would like to see in stores is more staff available at tills and food service counters during busy periods. This was mentioned by 30% of those aged 50-69 in research conducted for a 2008 IGD report, 'The Golden Generation'.

Retailers can also keep many older shoppers happy by having adequate staff to help them get around the store and through the checkout as quickly as possible.

Communicate the link between local food and the local economy

There is an opportunity to harness the high levels of interest in local foods among some older shoppers by clearly communicating how products are supporting the local economy.

Older shoppers are more likely to purchase and pay extra for local food than younger shoppers. Their main motivation for buying local food is to support local producers, with 86% of over 65s mentioning this compared with 59% of those under 35.

Provenance and over 65s

Provenance and over 65s graph

Source: IGD Shopper Trends 2010 report

Continue to develop innovative and tasty healthier products

It is important to continue to increase the range of innovative and tasty healthier products that meet the needs of older shoppers.

As the population ages, so health issues are becoming an increasing concern. Changes in shopper behaviour by older consumers may come about as a result of medical conditions and a growing recognition of the importance of diet to health.

Older shoppers are most likely to indicate that they have changed their diet on the recommendation of a doctor. More than two thirds claim to buy foods that contribute to their 5-a-day compared with 55% of under 35s. About half of over 65s buy foods that are high in fibre, lower in saturated fats and lower in salt, compared with beetween 30% and 40% of under 35s.

Foods that reduce cholesterol also appeal more to these shoppers – 33% of over 65s compared with 17% of under 35s.

Consumer views of cholestrol

What next?

Older consumers in the future will form a key market for providers of many goods and services, but making the most of this opportunity will require a clear understanding of their particular needs and aspirations.