The Swiss Institute for Food and Drink Innovations held a conference in Zurich on 15 November 2012 looking at the impact demographic changes will have on the future of food and the food industry. Speakers representing food authorities, food producers, food retailers, research, and packaging considered the changes an aging population might bring.

According to recent research the world population is now around 7 billion people and is expected to grow to 9 billion. However, based on historical data it is expected to stabilise at that level.

Not only is the global population growing, it is also getting older; a century or two ago life expectancy was around 50 years of age, whereas 82 is now a realistic expectation in developed countries, and an aging population sets different criteria when selecting food and drink products.

One practical aspect to consider is packaging: reading descriptions or explanations in smaller font sizes may present some older people with difficulties, while opening sealed packaging may also prove frustrating.

The functional aspects of food are another concern for an aging, and increasingly health aware, population. Maintaining a healthy weight is important to all of us, but dietary choices can also have implications for conditions like osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, dementia, diabetes and cancer. Unfortunately, health information carried on packaging does have its limitations. Medical advice suggests that the over 60s, for example, need a higher intake of vitamin D than the rest of the population; how does a manufacturer incorporate such detail into a product’s packaging which, according to national labelling standards, already has to carry information about recommended daily allowances, when more text will make presentation even more crowded and, potentially, difficult to read?

Finally, this more health conscious population is also more ethically and environmentally aware. Locally sourced produce can help to allay some environmental concerns, along with fulfilling a desire for tradition and familiarity. Convenience, however, is on the other side of that equation.

In brief, a growing, aging population is presenting the food industry with a number of new considerations!