Special edition: Brain health

Markets: More brain food needed for the elderly

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Cognitive health, Nutrition

‘Brain food’ – or food that helps address cognitive health – is set to take the global market by storm. But marketers of such products have so far missed a gaping hole of opportunity, according to analysts.

As part of this special series on cognitive health, NutraIngredients yesterday published an article on different ingredients and applications in the category. To read that article, click here​.

Although the category has clearly taken off, market analysts suggest that one key area of opportunity is not currently being maximized: Brain foods for the elderly.

Three consumer groups

According to Datamonitor, the three main consumer groups for cognitive health products are:

  • Aging populations (desire to retain memory and brain health)
  • Children (to improve concentration, school performance)
  • Pregnant women (to improve intelligence and cognitive health of their child)

The children’s category is already well-developed, particularly with the strong uptake of omega-3 DHA, and according to Frost & Sullivan, growth will continue. Kids’ nutrition is “expected to present significant opportunities to cognitive health product manufacturers,”​ the analyst told NutraIngredients.

An increased interest from older consumers aiming for healthy aging is also a key driver for the market, said Frost & Sullivan. “They want to be active for as long as possible,”​ added Euromonitor. “One of their biggest fears is the onset of progressive cognitive decline , memory loss, and, worst of all, irreversible dementia.”

There are currently 390m people over the age of 65 around the world – expected to increase to 800m by 2025. According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, dementia affects one in 20 people over the age of 65. Some 24m people are currently thought to be affected worldwide.

Exposing a gaping hole

However, although the older population is being targeted with a number of brain health ingredients, fortified food products aimed at this consumer group are distinctly lacking.

Euromonitor provided some key examples of omega-3-fortified food claiming to aid cognitive function – all of which were targeting the younger population, and particularly children. This highlighted “a very clear division in the way these products are positioned, exposing a gaping hole: Omega-3-fortified products are either marketed at children (or rather, their parents) on a brain development positioning, or at mature adults on a heart health positioning,” ​wrote the analyst in a comment article last year.

“Brain-healthy functional foods and beverages targeted at the older demographic, on the other hand, are virtually non-existent.”

Don’t neglect the boomers

Lecithin is another ingredient that has so far failed to reach elderly consumers in the category, as it hasn’t yet entered “mainstream consciousness as a brain food”.

“A prime opportunity exists for both food industry and vitamin and dietary supplement makers to promote this ingredient to the ageing target demographic,”​ wrote Euromonitor.

Although the aging population tends to be rather reticent when it comes to trying new functional food developments, Euromonitor reminds industry that this generational gap is about to close. The baby boomers of today are the elderly of tomorrow, says the analyst, and this group of consumers has already demonstrated that it is “adventurous”​ in its approach to functional foods.

Boomers already make up the key consumer group for functional spreadable oils and fats, most of which are currently positioned for heart health. This category – together with dairy foods – is now poised for success as vehicles of brain health ingredients as they are well suited to fortification with lecithin and omega-3, said Euromonitor.

“What is needed now is a major marketing push, advertising them as brain-performance-boosting functional ingredients to the older demographic.”

Watch out for the inhibitors

However, Datamonitor cautioned that the marketing of cognitive health products to the elderly needs to be approached with care.

“Poor mental health is somewhat stigmatized, which means that communications focusing on these broader issues may alienate shoppers rather than attract them,”​ said the analyst.

“Mood food or brain health food and beverages need to adopt a cautious approach in linking products too heavily with reduced risk of longer term problems such as depression, Alzheimer’s and even dementia.”

The NutraIngredients cognitive health series examines the market, supply, science and regulation behind the category. For more articles in the series, click here​.

Related topics: Markets, Cognitive function

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