EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


September 30, 2012

Silver tsunami

Companies set sights on aging consumers


Ellen Furuya, senior director of consumer insights at PepsiCo, said her company is changing how it makes and presents products. The company has done studies with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to see how people’s senses change as a result of aging.

“We need to really brighten the lights for this consumer,” she said, showing a slide of how dim a 75-year-old’s eyesight is compared to a 25-year-old’s. To account for weaker grip strength in aging consumers, “There’s a lot of people working on, ‘How do we make those (bottle) caps a little easier to get open?’?”

The company is also changing its food to account for weaker senses in older customers.

“Imagine a salty snack that people can’t smell or taste,” she said, describing the problem the company faces.

She pointed to one of the company’s product lines, Stacy’s brand pita chips. The hard snacks are popular, Furuya said, but their extreme crunchiness can present a problem for older consumers with dental problems. “You need to have a little softer bite,” Furuya said. “You’re going to kill these people.”

So the company started a new line of Stacy’s chips, this time a light cracker that’s much easier to chew.

Even advertising needs to take such changes into account, executives said. Simple, linear story lines with memory cues test better in commercials with older audiences. For example, Furuya said a commercial that showed a camera slowly panning up the side of a cold Budweiser bottle tested much better with older audiences than a frenetic, split-screen ad for Pepsi.

Susan Viamari of retail data group SymphonyIRI said budget-conscious older shoppers are also leading much of the shift to cheaper, store-brand items. Among senior adults, she said, 47 percent report cutting back on their nonessential grocery services, and 41 percent report buying more store-brand goods.

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