Innovating sustainably for our ageing population

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) the UK’s population is set to pass 70 million by mid-2031 and will reach 72.4 million by mid-2043. The breakdown of the age demographics is quite startling. The number of children is estimated to decrease slightly from 12.6m in 2018 and 12.3m in 2043, whilst the working age population will increase from 41.6m to 44.2m over the same period. People of pensionable age, which is taken to be 67 years for men and women, is set to increase from 12.3m in 2018 to 15.9m by 2043, representing 22% of the population. Whilst these figures are for the UK only, the growth patterns are true across the globe; according to the UN ‘by 2050, one in six people in the world will be over age 65 (16%), up from one in 11 in 2019 (9%)’. These are certainly strong arguments to advocate for innovating sustainably for our ageing population.

So, without any fads or fashions influencing consumer desires, there is an increasing subset of the UK population that we already understand the needs of. These needs include malnutrition, which is exacerbated by difficulties in physical mobility, dementia, interactions of medication, poverty, or simply apathy-induced loneliness. These needs also include difficulties in chewing, due to dental issues, or problems with swallowing, known as dysphagia. Complications with being able to open packaging or prepare ready made foods safely can also result in foods being ill-prepared or wasted.

So we have a growing subset of the population with a well-known and well-defined set of needs. Coupled with this is the very real business necessity of managing businesses sustainabily, meaning that social and environmental needs are met as well as the economics, the opportunities for looking after our ageing population is fairly well-defined but the challenges lie in being able to deliver this in a truly sustainable way. We should be under no illusions that the environmental requirements will become more stringent and underpinned by regulations.

Roadmaps everywhere should be reflecting the very real and unwavering demands of this well-defined population and should include ingredient sustainability, packaging design, supply chain sustainability and waste when innovating sustainably for our ageing population. Unlike the usual trend spotting which is often based on fads and fashions, the needs of the ageing population are clear and will be added to but will not go away. Investment in innovation across the food and beverage industry is an opportunity, and a necessity, to meet the needs of our ageing population.