Asia’s Rising ‘Silver’ Population: Implications and Opportunities for the Food Industry


Sally Trethewie, a Senior Consultant with Bell Pottinger, shares her thoughts on Asia’s rising ageing population, and its implications to the food industry in Asia.

The world is in the midst of an unprecedented demographic shift and industries across the globe are preparing for the rise of the “Silver Dollar”.

According to A.T. Kearney’s 2014 Global Maturing Consumer report, over two billion worldwide consumers will be over the age of 60 by 2047. Out of this share, 900 million - one in every six - will be Asian. With the global population already booming and set to grow further, there are significant implications and opportunities for the food industry as the aging population becomes the dominant force in the Asian market.

Today, Asia accounts for one-half of the world’s older population. CNBC, in its 2013 Aging in Asia report, highlighted that Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore will have between 27 - 36 per cent of its population aged 65 and over in forty years’ time. With the highest median ages, longest life expectancy rates and among the lowest fertility rates in the region, this part of the world is already facing the immediate challenges of declining populations. However, countries especially in Asia, are only beginning to respond to the unprecedented effects of ageing in terms of health and nutrition.

At the forefront of these challenges, as the A.T. Kearney report explains, is the prevalence of chronic diseases. Within an elderly population, the effects of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis and obesity, will become even more tangible. Critical to combating such diseases will be the development of nutritionally enriched and ‘functional’ foods, which have been fortified with fatty acids, like omega-3 and omega-6 to help in healthy ageing.

Apart from addressing the nutritional needs, it is equally imperative for food producers to take into account the onset of physiological changes due to ageing. Reduced mobility, loss of teeth and reduced sensory stimulation are some of the challenges that hamper food consumption. Innovative approaches such as flavour enhancement and texture modification can be utilised to develop these specialised products for the elderly. Combating this diverse set of challenges will require cutting-edge innovation and unified approaches in nutrition.

Another area of focus, as the A.T. Kearney report reveals, will be in the development of “senior-friendly” products. One of its key findings indicate that older shoppers do not think they are adequately served by food companies and retailers. Most commented on the difficulties they faced including the inability to navigate large shops, hard to reach products, difficult to-read labels and complicated packaging. Riding on this research, food manufacturers can harness best technological practices in design and develop food labels that are more reader friendly with larger fonts and easy to open packages.

Ageing is inevitable and for companies, this means being ahead of the ageing curve. The impact on business - the way companies operate and the markets they serve - will be immense. A rapidly greying population will saddle economies not only with health challenges but also with human resource concerns as the worldwide retirement age creeps up. As a consequence, food manufacturers and retailers have to adapt their products because ageing consumers will represent their future clientele as well as their workforce. Formulising strategies that take into account such complex and multi-faceted challenges will be key to the future.

In order to address the needs of the ageing population effectively, the public and private sector will need to work hand in hand. To better equip companies with this emerging need in Asia, the food industry will need to capitalise on public-private partnerships (PPPs). Utilising this collaborative approach will ensure that the region will draw upon best practices in policies, business, innovation and technology to better meet the needs of its population. PPPs will thus, serve as the strongest, most cost efficient and effective vehicles to tackle evolving nutrition issues like ageing and NCDs.

While the “Silver Dollar” presents a golden opportunity for the food industry, overcoming regulatory challenges will be crucial. Companies need to keep abreast of regulatory and technological development so as to ride this development. Elevating this success further will involve an active collaboration with governments and other key stakeholders to cater to the needs of Asia’s ageing population.

Contributed by Sally Trethewie, Senior Consultant at Bell Pottinger

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