Senior consumers offer massive market potential for ingredients suppliers and food processors that few firms have so far successfully realised, according to Aine Hallihan, Carbery head of research and development.
The whey protein firm is working closely with Food for Health Ireland (FHI) on products for those aged 50 and over. It launched whey protein concentrates, isolates and hydrolysates for healthy ageing at the Food Ingredients Europe show in Paris at the end of last year. They form part of its Carbelac, Isolac and Optipep ingredient brands.
"We are trying to highlight the benefits of nutrition for healthy ageing," said Hallihan. "No-one is really entering that market yet seniors is the fastest growing sector globally." She said manufacturers were still very cautious about entering it, "because they don't understand the customer group" and supermarkets also needed to be educated for similar reasons.
The biggest need Carbery could address was helping seniors fight age-related muscle loss, which it predicts more than 200M people will suffer by 2050.
In cooperation with FHI it is studying the effectiveness of protein intake and exercise in tackling the issue, using three test groups. One is consuming no added protein, one is taking a protein supplement and one is combining extra protein consumption with exercise.
"It should be finished by the end of next year," said Hallihan. "The aim is to apply for a European Food Safety Authority [health] claim for products ranging from cereal bars and ready-to-drink beverages to breakfast cereals and soups."
Fortifying mainstream consumer products with protein would be better than promoting protein supplements, she said, because "the target consumers have not grown up in that market".
The over-50s market could be segmented further by age, as each sub-group had slightly different needs and lifestyles, she added.