Technology, packaging, NPD, and 3D printing: How innovation can aid Asia's ageing population

By Cheryl Tay

- Last updated on GMT

Longer life means commercial opportunities for innovation and business expansion from not just older adults, but also their families and communities. ©iStock
Longer life means commercial opportunities for innovation and business expansion from not just older adults, but also their families and communities. ©iStock
Asia's rapidly ageing population is creating a raft of new business opportunities, but firms first need to better understand the market dynamics and expectations of older consumers.

That's according to an invitational paper written by Abbott's Director of Health Policy, Mary Beth Arensberg, which was presented at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) International Workshop on Adaptation to Population Aging Issues in Vietnam, and recently published in the Journal of Health, Population and Nutrition​.

Arensberg wrote that longer life means commercial opportunities for innovation and business expansion presented not just by older adults, but their families and communities as well.

Business opportunities

In order to do this, however, they must "better understand the market dynamics and spectrum of older adults as consumers, and view them more as assets rather than as burdens to society"​.

One of the areas Arensberg highlighted was technology: contrary to popular belief, technology use is not only common among older consumers, they even outpace younger consumers in adapting to new technology and online media.

She also wrote: "Product packaging and labelling is another area where the needs of the older consumer may not be very well understood or met.

"Studies have shown that because of physical and social changes, older people risk suffering embarrassment and anger, and even potential illness and serious injury as a result of difficulties with packaging."

However, older consumers in APAC and the Middle East are faring slightly better in this regard than their peers elsewhere: a Nielsen survey of 30,000 seniors in 60 countries revealed that 54% of its APAC and Middle Eastern respondents found it easy to locate easy-to-open product packages.

This was in contrast to Latin America, where finding such product packages was considered the biggest challenge for 51% of the respondents.

Arensberg also wrote that businesses can develop more specialised oral nutritional supplements rich in protein and functional ingredients to help the elderly rebuild muscle for strength and energy.

She wrote: "Innovations in personalised medicine and older adults taking more active roles in healthcare decisions…underscore the importance of positive health behaviours like good nutrition and active lifestyles."

They can also expand their meal services, and invest in 3D-printing technology to create smoothly textured foods for older adults who have difficulty chewing and swallowing, she added.

For example, the Modern Ageing programme by ACCESS Health International and NUS Enterprise in Singapore was designed help create business to serve the needs of seniors and their caregivers.

This entails a four-month training programme for entrepreneurs who want to set up businesses to serve the needs of older adults, whereby new products and services will be tested in Singapore before being introduced in other countries.

State action

Arensberg also said that while the UN has "targeted goals related to nutrition and older adults for well over 30 years, UN agencies have developed very few — if any — international nutrition programmes specifically targeting older adults and their unique nutritional needs."

She referred to a study investigating malnutrition linked to 15 diseases in China, which reported an annual economic cost of US$66bn, and concluded that the burden was large enough to "warrant immediate attention from public health officials and medical providers, especially given that low-cost and effective interventions are available"​.

She wrote, "Healthy ageing also requires a sustained commitment and action from country leaders to formulate evidence-based polices — like systematic nutrition screening and intervention — and healthcare workforce training and education that can strengthen and support an active ageing population."

She suggested that in developed countries, existing policies and public health interventions should be strengthened with the latest evidence to support lifestyle changes and risk reduction, better health outcomes, and a decreased disease burden.

In developing countries, public health policies should be implemented to encourage lifestyle changes and prevent the onset of diseases.

Arensberg noted that combating complex health problems like malnutrition requires cross-sector cooperation among government, philanthropic organisations, and businesses.

"Collective impact will be achieved through the commitment of key stakeholders from different sectors coming together to promote healthy ageing. Governments should consider engaging commercial businesses to help set sustainable policies that can advance products for older adults.

"(They should also) set national and local goals to incentivise commercial business development and investment in public-private partnerships to improve quality of care, promote healthy ageing, and impact outcomes for non-communicable diseases, ultimately benefiting population health for APEC countries."


Source: Journal of Health, Population and Nutrition

"Population aging: opportunity for business expansion, an invitational paper presented at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) International Workshop on Adaptation to Population Aging Issues, July 17, 2017, Hanoi, Vietnam"

Author: Mary Beth Arensberg


Healthy Ageing APAC Summit 2018: Our next event will assess how the food and nutrition industry can meet the needs of APAC's rapidly-ageing populations of today and tomorrow. The event, in Singapore on 12 and 13 June, will bring together policymakers, academics and industry experts from the likes of Nestlé, Blackmores, Swisse and Japanese 'engay' food pioneers Nutri co. Find out more here​.

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