Functional foods/beverages may be used in place of some medicines.

Millennials are the demographic du jour as food and beverage manufacturers and retailers try to better understand how the emerging segment of consumers will affect the industry and future buying patterns. But it would be a mistake to forget about baby boomers, a market segment that has buying power and a greater incentive to use nutrition as a means of staving off the effects of aging.

“With the 60-plus segment of the world’s population expected to reach 1 billion in 2017, the market for nutritional products targeting healthy aging has plenty of potential,” said Mai Nygaard, global product manager for Rousselot’s Peptan collagen peptides business. “People are more aware than ever about healthy eating and are taking more responsibility for maintaining good health as they get older.

“Also interesting are the soaring popularity of proteins and the clean label trend. Both of these are prevalent through many parts of the food industry and are relevant to manufacturers of food and drinks targeted at aging consumers.”

Based in Son, The Netherlands, Rousselot is a business unit of Darling Ingredients International. The company is a manufacturer and marketer of gelatin and collagen peptide products. The company’s products have been shown to help maintain bone and joint health as well as skin health.

“The other big trend we’re watching is the growing cost of health care throughout the western world,” Ms. Nygaard said. “With arthritis and osteoporosis two of the most costly diseases, governments and health care providers are increasingly promoting healthy eating and lifestyle as a way to allay or prevent ill-health. We think health authorities will continue to take a growing interest in preventative nutrition and encourage the development of relevant functional food and drinks that can help the aging populations to stay healthy.”

A study released by The Nielsen Co. and the Natural Marketing Institute this month and titled “Health and wellness in America” highlights the role nutrition is playing in helping consumers manage their health and wellbeing. The study showed that the number of consumers using food as a means to manage specific health issues is on the rise. But the study also found that while many consumers feel they can manage many health issues through proper nutrition, many also admit it can be a challenge to eat healthy.

“Sometimes life gets in the way,” said Sherry Frey, vice-president of the perishables group for Nielsen. “People think about it all the time: Why don’t I eat healthy? Price comes into play and people are not willing to sacrifice taste.”

That insight is important, Ms. Frey said, because it gives direction to food and beverage manufacturers interested in communicating the nutritional benefits of their products.

“One of the things we can do as an industry is to educate them (consumers) to make the best choice for themselves,” Ms. Frey said.

But she added that the evolution of what is known about specific nutrients and their benefits has the potential to confuse consumers.

“We are seeing people wanting to eat things like eggs and butter after they were told not to,” she said. “Nutrition research continues to evolve and some of it may be conflicting. Look at the Food Guide Pyramid. It really is evolving as more research is done.”

Nutrients of interest

The health and wellness study showed that millennials have similar ingredient preferences compared to their boomer cohorts, albeit in a different order and at lower levels.

“For example, the top three millennial ingredients they want more of are calcium, vitamins/minerals and fiber at 38% each,” the report said. “All three nutrients also make an appearance on the boomer ‘most wanted’ list, although they are at higher incidence rates. There appears to be a degree of cross-pollination between health-conscious boomers and their millennial children, further enhanced by the increased availability of foods and beverages containing healthy ingredients.”

Ms. Frey said the research also shows consumer interest in protein and probiotics.

“We are seeing consumers saying they are trying to do something around energy, satiety and gut health,” she said. “We are also seeing a move toward fiber and gluten-free.”

Interestingly, Ms. Frey added that while consumers may be interested in specific ingredients, it does not mean they know what it may be.

“Fiber is a good example,” she said. “People know it relates to regularity and weight control. They know to look for it, but may not know where it comes from.”

She said a similar situation may be developing around protein.

“People are looking for protein, but they may not necessarily understand its source,” she said. “They know it’s in Greek yogurt and they see it on the label of a protein bar, but they may not be thinking about the source. They are focused on quantity and getting enough in their diet.”

Data from the Natural Marketing Institute and included in the joint health and wellness study with Nielsen shows that one-third of American adults believe functional food and beverages may be substituted for some medicines, and the trend is more pronounced among baby boomers. But a key to getting consumers to buy a functional food is making them understand the benefits derived from a specific ingredient, whether it is fiber and probiotics for digestive health, protein for weight management, and calcium for bone health.

“Reducing, or at least delaying, the physical effects of aging is highly desirable in today’s society where people are living longer and wish to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle into their older years,” Ms. Nygaard said. “To attract the attention of increasingly discerning consumers, it is essential we understand exactly their lifestyle and needs and highlight the benefits of our products that meet those needs.

“Looking and feeling good are equally important factors for people as they age, so claims relating to clinically proven benefits in the anti-aging of skin as well as joint and bone health resonate well. We find the most effective claims tend to depend on our customer’s product formulation and application focus — nutricosmetics such as powder drinks or tablets with ‘beauty claims’ are popular, but we also see increasing interest in functional food products like nutritional bars and beverages with specific health claims.”