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Setting Your Sights on Seniors

March 12, 2010
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Retailers, start your engines. As baby boomers begin to reach the age of retirement, the population of seniors is expected to swell dramatically.

According to a Jan. 24, 2010, article in U.S. News & World Report, the U.S. Census Bureau forecasts that the 65-and-over population will increase from 38.7 million in 2008 to 88.5 million by 2050. During the same span of time, the 85-and-over population is expected to grow from 5.4 million to 19 million.

The article goes on to say that these days, seniors have more of a reason than ever to look forward to their “golden years.”

“Seniors today are living more independently,” the article reads. “Fewer of them are dying of lengthy and debilitating bouts of cancer, thanks to improved screening, better treatments, and a drop in smoking; and they’re happier than they were in the past.”

Taking a Stand

A big reason many of these seniors are in such high spirits is because they refuse to live their “golden years” sitting down - they’re staying active and seem to believe they’re only as old as they feel.

Marc Narine, vice president of marketing at National Blends - an Orlando, Fla.-based manufacturer of skincare products - says his company views the term “senior” in a different way than some companies viewed it in years past.

“The persons that this term refers to, as our company sees it, are on Facebook, are buying airline tickets online, have a particular preference in search engines and are active - and eager to stay so,” he says. “As a result, they are taking the time to invest in their health and actively seeking the information and products that yield dividends on that investment.”

On the skincare side, Narine says National Blends manufactures several products that cater to the needs of the modern senior. The products contain probiotics, antioxidants and other supplements to help boost the body’s immune system, treat skin conditions and rebuild skin cells.

“It’s important that you understand your consumer,” he says, “what their ‘pains’ are and what ‘fixes’ they seek, then invest time and money into the relevant channels.”

Obviously, packaging must communicate the “fixes” a product offers to seniors. To find out exactly what skincare packaging appeals to seniors, Narine says he went grocery shopping with his grandmother to observe her shopping habits. What he found was quite helpful.

“It was interesting to watch what she sought,” Narine says. “In some cases, [she looked for] clear, readable type, claims [detailing] where the product was made and what some of the ingredients were.”

Across the Categories

The same packaging attributes work well in many other senior-focused categories. Rob Lippucci, product marketing manager at Hospital Specialty Company (Hospeco), Cleveland, says it is important that retailers print clean, clear and concise descriptors on packaging for their adult incontinence products.

Easy-to-read packaging helps seniors locate the right product, learn how to use the product and feel comfortable with their purchase decision.

Hugh Robison, consultant at Rensselaer, N.Y.-based HRF Product Solutions, says packaging for adult incontinence products also should boast a clear image of the product inside and a simple-to-understand color-coded absorbancy scale.

But when it comes to incontinence products themselves, things are a little more complex. Robison notes that the two major manufacturers of national brand incontinence products are working hard to expand into gender-specific offerings that provide added benefits to the specific user.

Lippucci also sees this expansion occurring.

“The incontinence needs of men and women are different,” he emphasizes, “and since women purchase and use the majority of products, [manufacturers] have redesigned products and packaging to appeal to the market.”

Lippucci says many private label manufacturers have been forced to retool their product lineup to keep up.

But Robison adds that retailers will want to make sure they do more than just carry gender-specific incontinence products under their private brands.

“The market trend is toward providing customers with enhanced functionality using a thinner core, providing improved comfort through elastomeric components, and developing a ‘green’ option,” he says.

Still, even with the right products, retailers need to make sure they employ the right merchandising strategies. Lippucci says that when it comes to incontinence products, consumers respond most to print and in-store product promotions.

“Most consumers in this group still check the weekly circulars for sales and special offers,” he says. “These ads offer a good opportunity to get your message across.”

But Lippucci doesn’t believe retailers should invest all of their promotional efforts into such traditional areas - the senior demographic is becoming increasingly tech-savvy, and tools such as Facebook and Twitter are becoming ever more relevant to seniors.

“It is likely as the baby boomers age, the Internet and social media will become increasingly important tools to reach the consumers,” he says. “It is becoming increasingly important to have a product presence on the retailer’s Web site for those customers that search for products or information online.” PLB

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