Healthy Ageing: From Anti-Ageing To Age-Embracing

Wednesday, April 6th, 2022

COVID-19 has accelerated wellness-related trends, reinforcing the importance of health as a priority, as well as viewing physical and mental well-being as an entire ecosystem.

Contributed by Emil Fazira, Senior Consultant at Euromonitor International.

The desire to be healthier is changing the narrative of ageing, moving away from fighting the signs of ageing to focusing on ‘looking and feeling good at any age’. This shift represents an opportunity for businesses to be able to support consumers in their search for a healthier life, across all age groups. Hence, it is vital to understand health trends and consumer approaches to treatment and prevention, as the approach to wellness becomes more and more holistic. The shift from treatment to prevention is increasingly evident as consumers take greater ownership of their health and reconsider their eating habits as a result.

Indonesia, Vietnam: Young Nations, High Rate of Ageing

Japan has typically been at the forefront of healthy ageing innovation due to its large proportion of seniors; consumers aged 65+ make up 35 percent of Japan’s population, and the country expects a slow growth in the number of people within this age group up to 2040. The remaining Asia Pacific markets, however, are expected to age rapidly, particularly Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam. 

Vietnam and Indonesia in particular, have a small percentage of consumers aged 65+ although by 2040 they will be well ahead of markets like Malaysia, the Philippines and India. In fact, both Indonesia and Vietnam are among the youngest nations in terms of median age in 2020, with 30 and 33, respectively.

Products positioned as preventative will likely attract them as they approach a senior age. In fact, Euromonitor International’s Voice of the Consumer: Lifestyles Survey shows that 56 percent of surveyed Vietnamese respondents aged 30-44 intended to increase their spend on health and wellness products in 2021, the highest percentage within this age group among Asian markets.

Nutrition: Functional Nutrients Meet Traditional Herbal Ingredients

Escalated by COVID-19, the incorporation of healthier ingredients into daily diets has become a greater priority among consumers. Results from Euromonitor’s International Voice of the Consumer: Lifestyles Survey indicate that Asia Pacific saw the largest rise in the percentage of consumers who show strong interest in reading nutrition labels between 2016 and 2021. In 2021, 46 percent of respondents claimed to closely read nutrition labels of food and beverages before consuming. 

Consequently, there has been higher demand for targeted functionality as a key component of wellbeing. The extra benefits delivered by functional ingredients, ranging from immunity boosting to brain health, are increasingly accepted as a means of promoting well-being, as well as minimising nutritional gaps in the diet.

For example, in Vietnam, Vinamilk’s Kenko Haru (powdered milk) was launched in August 2021, which contains Fucoidan; the product is positioned to support bone health and immunity, primarily targeting senior consumers. 

Bone and joint health is expected to be one of the fastest growing positioning types in 2022 amongst packaged food, in terms of value sales. However, its penetration in the market is still low, at only one percent, compared to digestive health with eight percent. The large presence of digestive health positioning among packaged food is owing to the natural positioning of yoghurt and probiotic content in products.

Interest in simpler foods with a nutritionally balanced offering and natural healing properties has also increased significantly, as consumers seek out healthier food and drinks. This has resulted not only in additional opportunities for traditional ingredients and ancient herbs and botanicals, but also for product innovation, with companies re-engineering product formulas to include more natural options and new functional ingredients.

Traditional ingredients will also bode well with local consumers; for example, in Indonesia, FamilyMart introduced jamu drinks in October 2021. Jamu is a local drink containing a mixture of various herbs, primarily known to boost the immune system. 

Mental Wellbeing: Consumers Keen to Fight Against Stress and Depression

Increasingly, consumers are also seeking internal balance, in the sense that their nutrition health matches their mental and emotional states. Indicators include brain and memory health, and sleep and stress. Compared to other regions, Asia Pacific records a higher percentage of survey respondents concerned about certain mental health indicators for the long term. Memory issues is especially pertinent, pointing to a continued need for products addressing such concerns. 

Currently, the proportion of products in the market that claim to support brain health and memory is low. Products with brain health and memory positioning make up a US$3.2 billion market in Asia Pacific, but only comprise one percent of total sales, with flat growth expected between 2021 and 2022. Much of these products are also targeting children in baby food, leaving limited options for adults, and much room for improvement.

Regardless, there have been developments addressing mental health – mainly positioned for relaxation and sleeping. Japan leads innovation in this area, targeting working adults. Although not explicitly addressing ageing concerns, targeting 30-40-year olds is aligned with the concept of preventative health, as consumers adopt healthy lifestyles in preparation for old age.

One such example is a ready-to-drink (RTD) tea launched by Asahi Group, one of the top five RTD tea players in Japan. Its new product was introduced in August 2020, which claims to relieve stress and improve sleep quality by reducing fatigue as it contains L-theanine.  

Aside from the fairly well known ingredients of L-theanine and GABA (Gamma Aminobutyric Acid), other plant-based ingredients and botanicals, also known as adaptogens, are becoming increasingly associated with holistic wellness and relaxation. Herbs, mushrooms and roots common in traditional Asian medicine may constitute an emerging part of consumers’ diets striving for internal wellbeing, especially those seeking plant-based functional solutions. 

Innovation for Healthy Ageing

Innovation remains key to promoting healthy ageing products. Product choice is limited despite growing consumer interest to address these impending health concerns. As Asia remains a price-sensitive market in general, it is expected that the core consumer base who might be more willing to spend are working adults with higher disposable incomes and fast-paced lifestyles. 

With Japan as the hub for such innovations, white spaces could be sought by studying the Japanese market to understand where the trend might develop, such as in functional chocolate, a growing market. North Colours Life Smart, for example, targets middle-aged consumers with memory issues and sleep and skin health concerns.

Its functional ingredient is kendir extract, an adaptogen that promotes quick sleep. Such a product is a two-pronged approach in creating opportunity: the first being chocolate as a food vehicle for functional ingredients, and second, functional ingredients as a category booster, should perceptions around chocolate as an unhealthy snack persist, while retaining their indulgence positioning.

In Japan’s case, higher growth rates of reduced sugar chocolate confectionery raise a key consideration; manufacturers must consider local perceptions of health and indulgence. Premiumisation and indulgence go hand-in-hand with certain health claims; higher cocoa content for example, is often related to being less sweet yet premium.

Hence, fortified/functional claims must consider related health trends instead of relying solely on functional ingredients, especially since active ingredients in a nascent health category have yet to fully gain consumer trust.


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