We hear a lot of discussion about the aging population and how it will affect healthcare and public policy moving forward. But as the population grows older, with the Baby Boomer generation entering its senior years, the impact spreads far beyond just the senior living and healthcare industries. This was precisely the focus at the Retail Innovation Fair, hosted by Wake Forest University's Center for Retail Innovation and sponsored by CVS Caremark on September 13 and 14, 2012: How the aging population will impact the retail industry, and what preparations retailers should be making to serve the needs of this demographic in the coming years.

Changing aging needs demand shifts in packaged goods

According to the Bend Bulletin, both retail packaging and retail store design can be improved to meet consumers' changing aging needs. For instance, clearer fonts on packaging and store layouts are two major factors which can affect how easily aging consumers can access necessary items in retail stores.

Currently, there are 50 million Americans age 64 and older. That demographic spends $50 billion per year on packaged goods, a figure which will only rise as the number of Americans in this demographic grows. That's why it's so important for manufacturers of packaged goods to consider the unique needs of this group when designing both products and packaging. For instance, executives attending the event discussed the need to change both the taste of popular items (making them saltier and sweeter, to accommodate aging taste buds) and the packages and labeling (using contrasting colors that are easier to see and differentiate copy from the background and images).

PepsiCo tackles changing consumer needs

Ellen Furuya, senior director of consumer insights at PepsiCo, talked about the various ways the company is making changes to its products to adapt to older adults.

[caption id="attachment_29317" align="alignright" width="300"]Retail changes to meet aging population. Image by ckforjc on Stock.xchng[/caption]

  • Making bottle caps easier to open for those with weak grip strength.
  • Altering package designs for improved comprehension to those with visual impairment.
  • Enhancing flavors of snacks for consumers with weakened sense of taste.
  • Offering easy-to-chew products as an alternative to crunchy snacks.
Retail stores modify layouts. lighting and inventory

On the retailer side, ease of navigation is a major factor in store layout. Expect to see the most popular products placed on middle shelves, so they're not too high or too low for consumers with mobility issues to reach -- especially those using motorized scooters. There's also a shift among some types of stores (those that sell foods among other items, such as clothing and housewares) to include more health and wellness items instead of the unhealthy snacks that used to populate those shelves.

Other issues, such as adequate lighting and aisles wide enough to accommodate motorized scooters will be significant factors for consumers in choosing where to shop.

Advertising can play a role in education

We already know the 55-plus demographic is becoming a major target for advertisers, and that the expectations of this group are more demanding. But advertisers also have an opportunity to be a resource to consumers in terms of what's healthy and appropriate for certain dietary needs, such as low-sodium or low-cholesterol. As the aging population continues to become more aware of their own health needs and more engaged in living a healthy lifestyle, brands opting to provide this essential information in ads have a leg up on the competition.

The types of ads that work for this group also differ, sometimes significantly, from that of younger demographics. For instance, Furuya explained that in a test, a slower, scrolling visual of a bottle of Budweiser had more appeal to older consumers than a flashy, split-screen Pepsi ad.

Not only is the population aging, but the demands of today's seniors are vastly different from what manufacturers and marketers have become accustomed to. Those paying close attention and taking the time to make modifications ahead of the growing consumer demands will thrive in the coming years, while those who choose to follow the old-school rules will flounder. To keep your finger on the pulse of the retail industry as it adapts to a rapidly changing population, follow the Center for Retail Innovation on Facebook.