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Courting the Mature Consumer

By Joanna Cosgrove | September 1, 2009

This swelling Baby Boomer and Mature consumer segments could make a huge impact on the supplement industry but there are obstacles.

By the year 2015, those aged 50 and older will represent 45% of the U.S. population, according to AARP. In a demographic characterized by men and women seeking to take better control of their own health, the time to get acquainted with the needs and wants of the expanding Baby Boomer and Mature (over 65) consumer segments is now.

According to "Golden Opportunities: Trends Among the Fastest Growing Demographic in America," a report from Natural Marketing Institute's Greg Stephens, vice president strategic consulting, Baby Boomers are increasingly interested in all things related to maintaining their health and longevity, including having the energy to do what they want to do, preventing certain diseases and health conditions, mental brain health, being physically fit, getting enough sleep and maintaining a proper weight.

Internet technology and social networking aren't just for the young, but also the young at heart. Websites like WebMD and Facebook have played an increasingly more important role in information dissemination to this consumer segment. NMI found that almost two-thirds of Matures use the Internet to research specific illnesses they were diagnosed with and to search for information on prescription drugs. Almost half used the Internet to research an ailment before going to a doctor, to search for tips on leading a healthier lifestyle and to research specific illnesses they think they might have.

Mr. Stephens cited one instance of how consumers are connecting the dots between certain supplements and conditions. "One area of interest is inflammation. Boomers are starting to link up omega 3 fatty acid consumption with inflammation," he said. "But it's getting beyond addressing a specific ailment. Now Boomers are beginning to believe that ingredients can address certain conditions whereas in the past there was a lot of skepticism."

Older consumers are also interested in purchasing preventative care products however, he said, prevention has always been a tough sale, especially with Boomers. "If you're taking glucosamine for a month and your joints feel better, you'll keep taking it. But if you're taking a heart healthy product-the benefit could be 10 years down the road. It's been those types of products where compliance is lacking but Boomers are starting to see the preventative benefits of products and believe in the efficacy of them."

When polled for the NMI report, 71% of respondents said they "would rather use nutritional supplements than prescription medicines to stay healthy," however 77% felt that there is "too much conflicting information about which nutritional supplements they should take."

Mr. Stephens attributed that statistical uptick not only to a positive attitude shift toward holistic health, but also to a concern about prescription medications. "The total halo effect is not what it once was," he said. "Consumers are a lot more knowledgeable now than they once were. They know about side effects. If a Boomer's cholesterol is creeping up and a doctor recommends statin therapy, it used to be that was an accepted treatment. Now they're concerned about side effects and saying 'Whoa, what else can I do?' and exploring phytosterols, beta glucan, niacin and other supplements that can offer an effect on cholesterol."

Future Opportunities

Given the current economic pinch, it would be easy to assume that most Boomers and Matures would lean toward healthier living and self medicating with supplements to shave off some of the cost associated with prescriptions, but that's not entirely the case. NMI found that 32% of Boomers are buying less healthy food, gaining weight (23%) and decreasing the number of nutritional supplements they purchase (19%).

What's more, 72% of those polled said they have curtailed impulse purchases, while 60% said they are buying more store brands.

Looking forward, Mr. Stephens said that one thing he's noticed among older consumers is their awareness of the interplay among certain conditions, such as the relationship of stress to lack of sleep, energy and mental focus. "It's more of a lifestyle approach now," he said. "It may not be just taking a supplement for one of these conditions but recognizing the series of conditions that might involve a lifestyle or behavioral change or integrating supplements into an exercise regime-more of a lifestyle change than just taking a pill."

In terms of marketing to Boomers, he said that retailers and marketers understand that Boomers are obviously different from Gen X-ers and Gen Y-ers, but he takes the difference one step further. "Even though one out of every four Americans is a Boomer, I would challenge them to recognize that just because they're over 55 doesn't mean all Boomers are the same," he concluded. "For best success, target which consumers are appropriate for you and develop a specific message for who you are trying to reach."
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