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Creating winning foods for the silver-hair market

Source:Ringier Food

Date Published:7/12/2016 10:07:01 AM

For the elderly, food must not only meet their nutritional needs, but the packaging has to be easy to open, reminds Jo Smewing*

IN THE next few decades, the silver-hair market will increase significantly in China, with average life expectancy having risen considerably in recent years, in line with the country’s economic boom, to 76. A government report published in September 2014 found that 8 percent of China’s consumption was of products and services for older people, a market it says is worth Rmb4tn. By 2050, according to the report, that proportion will rise to a third1. Traditionally, the older generation in China passed its wealth onto children and grandchildren, but due to the one child policy, many are now spending it on themselves, so disposable income of this age group provides strong market opportunities for food manufacturers.

Older consumers are increasingly aware of potential age-related health issues and rather than relying on medicine to tackle problems, view healthy eating as a way to avoid them in the first place. As a result, there is a vast opportunity in the development of “everyday” foods with clear and scientifically proven health benefits that resonate with the concerns of older people. Critically, those products must also be offered in suitable packaging. This could mean slight adjustments or radical rethinking of recipes, processing and cooking methods and pack formats. Texture analysis can help perfect all of these. Here, we examine the role it can play in designing food products that succeed with older consumers.

The Bread V Squeeze Rig from Stable Micro Systems

The Bread V Squeeze Rig tests the softness of bread by imitating the process of manually squeezing a loaf of bread between the thumb and forefingers. Comprising of ‘V’ shaped rounded fingers, the rig is lowered onto a loaf and the force required to compress the bread is measured. Typical results show that the lower the force and the higher the value of springiness, the fresher the loaf.

Old concept, new market

Fat reduction is by no means a new concept in product development terms, but precisely for that reason reduced fat products have a good chance of winning the trust of skeptical older consumers.

Food processors can substitute fat with various ingredients, including soya proteins, gums, carrageenans and starch, or use techniques such as massaging and pre-blending. However, products that are relatively low in fat often lose some of their textural appeal, as they can become watery or too firm. Texture analysis enables processors to assess the impact of fat reduction and select the ingredient, or process, that best restores mouthfeel.

Stable Micro Systems’ TA.XTplus texture analyser can be fitted with various probes to perform tests which highlight textural differences in the end product as a result of fat substitution. Tests to compare full-fat and reduced-fat meat pastes, for example, can be carried out using a simple penetration method. A cylinder probe measures the force required to penetrate the sample to a specified depth.

Research has shown that older adults may need to up their protein intake to prevent sarcopenia – the degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength associated with ageing.  As a trusted vehicle for delivering health benefits, yoghurts are the ideal matrix for protein fortification. However, the addition of proteins can significantly alter yoghurt consistency.

When purchasing yoghurts, consumers pay great attention to nutritional value. However, when consuming them, evaluation of quality is heavily based on mouthfeel. Creaminess and smoothness is an important factor, significantly influencing repeat purchase decisions.

Consistency can be tested using Stable Micro Systems’ back extrusion rig. This device performs a compression test in which the product is extruded up and around the edge of a disc plunger. The maximum force recorded is taken as a measurement of firmness – the higher the value, the thicker and firmer the consistency.

Heart health

In the Report on Cardiovascular Disease in China, 2011 it was estimated that about 230 million patients with CVD, including 200 million patients suffer from hypertension2. Younger silver-haired consumers in particular are likely to be receptive to products that can help reduce the risk of developing this chronic disease. To this end, cholesterol-lowering margarines and spreads containing plant stanols and omega-3 fatty acids are already accepted and used by older consumers.

Ease of application is clearly a key characteristic of these products, and can be analyzed with a spreadability rig. It comprises a male 90° cone probe and precisely-matched female perspex cone-shaped product holders. As the arm of the TA.XTplus lowers the probe, the product is forced to flow outward between the two surfaces, the ease of which indicates the degree of spreadability.

Older consumers use their loaf

An increased fiber intake, particularly via cereals and wholegrains, has been linked to prevention of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, weight gain and some forms of cancer. As awareness of these health benefits grows, one popular candidate for fiber fortification is the humble loaf. However, the addition of fiber can result in a harder, less appealing crumb.

Stable Micro Systems’ Bread V Squeeze Rig tests the softness of bread by imitating the process of manually squeezing a loaf of bread between the thumb and forefingers. Comprising of ‘V’ shaped rounded fingers, the rig is lowered onto a loaf and the force required to compress the bread is measured. Typical results show that the lower the force and the higher the value of springiness, the fresher the loaf.

Senior-friendly packaging

Even the most carefully thought-out product will be doomed to failure if the packaging is difficult to open. Peelable film lids and covers are one of the most popular closures today, and the action of peeling back the lid can be simulated via the Peel Strength Test Rig to ensure the pack can be easily opened.

Results of a typical test on a yoghurt pot show the force needed to break the first adhesive bonds, after which variations of force are shown as the lid is gradually peeled away from the circumference of the pot to where the lid detaches completely. Tensile grips (of varying types) can also be used to assess the sealing properties of ribbed heat-sealed foil packaging or plastic heat-sealed packs. By testing seal strength, manufacturers can accurately assess both the stability of packaging seals and their ease of use.

Silver future presents new textural challenges

As food processors wake up to the potential for developing products that help prevent or manage age-related health issues, texture analysis is playing an increasingly significant role. Providing essential data on the impact of fat reduction and the incorporation of functional ingredients, it is proving invaluable in tackling the textural issues associated with ‘better for you’ foods.  – From the China Food Manufacturing Journal

*Jo Smewing is Applications Manager at Stable Micro Systems


1 Ageing population in China creates business opportunities, The Financial Times, 29 March 2015

2 Cardiovascular diseases in China: Current status and future perspectives, Hua Li, Junbo Ge, published online, March 2015


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