Morgan Stanley
  • Research
  • Mar 26, 2024

Aging Consumers Shop for Wellness

As the population grows older and wealthier, expected growth in health-enhancing products and services in Europe could offer lessons for the world on this demographic’s consumption preferences.

The global population of older adults (those over 65) is growing thanks to advances in medicine and technology that have helped raise global life expectancy by a decade over 40 years to reach 71 years in 2021. With much more money to spend and an increased focus on wellness, preventative health and self-care, this aging populace could spark growth in products and services aligned to these trends—and consumption patterns in Europe could offer important clues to this powerful demographic’s changing preferences in the rest of the world.

“The rise of modern medicine, improved working conditions, urbanization, greater access to food and water—all of these have contributed to a greater life expectancy,” says Sarah Simon, who covers European consumer staples for Morgan Stanley Research. “Beyond the economic, demographic and political implications, we expect that older adults’ changing consumption patterns could push sales growth for consumer staples companies, particularly medical nutrition, consumer health and active nutrition.” Among the European consumer staples she follows, for example, the trend could lift sales by 4% to 10% per year through 2026.

Global life expectancy has risen more than 54% since 1950, according to the United Nations, and the proportion of adults over 65 has doubled to around 10% of the population over the same period.

Source: Source: United Nations, Morgan Stanley Research

Medical Nutrition

Malnutrition is a common side effect of aging in general and of increasingly prevalent age-related chronic diseases such as cancer. It affects around a quarter of hospital patients globally, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Two-thirds of cancer patients and the same proportion of elderly patients are malnourished, according to other estimates.

Tackling malnutrition can help alleviate patient distress; make medical treatment cheaper, more tolerable and more effective; and shorten hospital stays. All of this can ease the pressure on healthcare systems.

Medical nutrition involves the use of specialized treatments—such as high-protein supplements designed for elderly or cancer patients, or specialized products that address a particular disease or illness—that are administered via feeding tubes into the stomach or small intestine, either intravenously or by mouth. The latter category, which allows patient to continue their treatment at home, is growing rapidly.

However, while healthcare practitioners are using medical nutrition solutions more and more frequently, only one in three patients in Europe receives this type of treatment at present. Consequently, analysts forecast market growth of as much as 7% over the medium term, as the population continues to age and malnutrition and the incidence of age-related diseases continue to grow.

Adults aged 65 and older in 2022 had about 65% more disposable income than in 2000, according to U.S. Census data.

Consumer Health

The market for consumer health products has historically been resilient even during times of economic stress, and is growing around 5% a year globally. This includes products such as vitamins, minerals and supplements (VMS); dental care; and cold and flu treatments.

In Europe, analysts expect this subsector to outperform other staples over the next 12 months, buoyed by the general trend toward health and wellness and by longer-lived, higher-spending consumers. Over-the-counter cold and flu treatments, VMS and denture care (which made up 4% of global retail sales for dental care in 2022) look particularly well positioned.

Denture care represented 4% of oral care retail sales in 2022, or roughly $1.8 billion.

Source: Euromonitor, Morgan Stanley Research

"As people live longer, we expect them to continue to increasing their spending in key consumer health and oral care categories over a more prolonged period," says Simon.

Active Nutrition

Overall health consciousness has risen in the developed world, with consumers more interested in how the food they eat affects their health.

The active nutrition subcategory, which encompasses protein-related products, dietary supplements and probiotics, is benefitting as awareness about a healthy diet's positive impact on the aging process has grown. Indeed, many governments and national health organizations now promote increased protein uptake as one of the ways to improve the quality of life in adults, especially older adults. Meanwhile, the link between gut health and various illnesses is also of particular relevance to the aging theme; for instance, recent studies have investigated the gut microbiome and probiotics as they relate to dementia.

“The protein subcategory is growing by mid- to high single digits per year on average, while the market for protein-related products has grown 10% per year since 2009, making it one of the fastest-growing segments within consumer staples,” says Simon. “Expectations for even higher consumption of protein supplements among older people should set this subsector for further growth in the long term.”

Additionally, consumers are turning to supplements or foods that are rich in probiotics, such as kimchi, kombucha or yogurt, to maintain or improve the microbiome. Companies that have existing products, market share and brand awareness among consumers will have an advantage as this subcategory grows.

For deeper insights and analysis, ask your Morgan Stanley Representative or Financial Advisor for the full report “Ageing Well,” Jan. 18, 2024.