Lee was addressing delegates at the first Healthy Ageing APAC Summit, organised by NutraIngredients-Asia and FoodNavigator Asia in Singapore.
Using Japan as a prime example, Lee highlighted a 'seismic shift' demographic shift in Asia: "Asia has the most people aged 65 and above in in the world — 53% of them will live in this region by 2030. We also have the oldest population in the world.
"In Japan, the median age was 47 in 2017. This was followed by Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore, where the median age was 41, while the world's median age was 30.
"This requires us to rethink how we design our food products. We cannot afford to ignore these massive demographic shifts."
She added that by 2030, the retired and elderly would form the health food and supplement industry's biggest consumer group, with consumption almost reaching US$13 trillion.
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Lee then outlined five key trends among APAC's ageing population.
Firstly, she mentioned 'holistic ageing'. Seniors are concerned not just about their physical health, but also their mental and emotional well-being. They view ageing as a 'state of mind' — a negative view of their capabilities tends to translate to an unhealthy lifestyle, while a positive view often leads to a more active lifestyle.
Secondly, seniors want to maintain their independence for as long as possible. In Japan, 50% of aged consumers live and dine alone, driving the desire to stay fit well into their golden years so they can avoid being a burden to the younger generation.
Perhaps in relation to this, they are keen to prolong their healthy lifespan, which motivates them to continue being active and engaging in their hobbies as they grow older.
At the same time, consumers who are slightly younger have become increasingly interested in starting preventative healthcare at an earlier age, preferably before 60.
Finally, Lee said, seniors do not want to be treated as a collective. "They are not a homogeneous group. They have different challenges depending on their age groups, be they in their 60s, 70s, 80s or beyond."
Purchasing power, prioritising pleasure
Lee said seniors' purchasing power had risen along with life expectancy, and as such, they had 'redefined ageing'.
"They want to age well. Not only do they have the time to do what they were too busy to do when they were younger, they also have greater purchasing power."
Seniors are also acutely aware of the health issues they often face as they age, such as waning appetites, difficulty swallowing, and poor sleep quality. Their mental and emotional health is also affected, with many experiencing loneliness, isolation, anxiety and depression.
Lee said: "It starts with physical challenges, (which means) they tend to go out less, which leads to social isolation and eventually, depression.
"They also know they should eat healthily, but they refuse to because they wonder, 'How many years do I have left?' and they just want to enjoy the rest of their lives without worrying about their health."
The key to an all-rounded approach to help seniors live healthier, stress-free lives, Lee said, was to prioritise pleasure instead of merely targeting health issues.
"There are a lot of products on the market targeting function, like improving physical, cognitive or digestive health. They can help improve health by offering adequate nutrient intake, but what is missing?
"It's eating pleasure. Older consumers want to enjoy the dining experience, instead of just having a meal to fill their stomachs."
Innovation based on a keen understanding of seniors' needs is therefore crucial. Consumer surveys conducted by DuPont found a lack of products that could aid in better sleep and improved appetites in senior consumers.
Most elderly have smaller appetites but a greater need for nutrients, as well as difficulty chewing, so they require soft foods in smaller, nutrient-dense portions.
At the same time, they tend to be averse to tablets and pills as it reminds them of medication. Lee said chewing gum containing the necessary vitamins and minerals was one innovation gaining traction in this market segment, along with drinking yogurt fortified with lactic acid and good bacteria to improve digestive function.
She added: "Older people don't want to be reminded how ill they are. Companies should emphasise the end-benefits of their products instead of highlighting that they are meant for certain age groups. Also, texture and enhanced flavour profile are what we need to help restore seniors' eating pleasure.
"We have the opportunity to come up with unique food solutions to address the needs of this ageing population. But for us to do that well, we first need to understand their needs. We need to listen to their voices, so we are able to serve them well and in way they want us to."