Good news for Colin the Caterpillar: we’re having more birthdays…

The number of people aged 100 and over hit a record high in 2021, according to analysis of census data by the Office for National Statistics. It showed there were 13,924 centenarians in England and Wales in 2021, up 24.5% from 2011.

The increase in life expectancy will have a meaningful impact on society – the government’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty has already called for action to better support the independence and health of older adults. But what does it mean for food manufacturers?

Many leading manufacturers are adapting their business models to cater to the ageing population. Take Nestlé, whose CEO recently stated the company would innovate to meet “the specific nutritional needs” of the “50-plus age group”.

Specialist Ozempic diets

Such “needs” include weight maintenance, and last month Nestlé unveiled Vital Pursuit, a range of food intended for US consumers who are taking GLP-1 weight loss medications – such as Wegovy or Ozempic. Launching later this year, Vital Pursuit is positioned to appeal to the estimated 15.5 million US adults who have used the injectable diabetes medications.

Danone, too, is ramping up its output of specialised nutrition products. It last month announced a €70m (£59.6m) investment into its Steenvoorde, France, factory to install a production line to deliver almost 20 million litres of its Nutricia medical nutrition per year.

This will help “drive better outcomes and quality of life for patients who suffer from disease-related malnutrition, such as in cancer”, according to Danone. In the same month, Danone completed the acquisition of US-based tube feeding business Functional Formularies.

Will baby aisles in supermarkets vanish? 

As manufacturers ramp up production of these specialised nutrition products, they are likely to scale back on infant care. In England and Wales, the birth rate has decreased over the past decade. It fell to 1.49 children per woman in 2022 from 1.55 in 2021, according to census data.

Meanwhile, the top three baby milk brands – Danone’s Aptamil and Cow & Gate and Nestlé’s SMA – have all seen double-digit volume declines [NIQ 52 w/e 9 September 2023].

This trend is also being seen in China, where the fertility rate was estimated to hit a record low of 1.09 in 2022. It’s probably no coincidence, then, that Nestlé last year closed an infant formula factory that had previously served the Chinese market.

Meanwhile, babyfood brands like Ella’s Kitchen and Piccolo are making concerted efforts to diversify into children’s snacking. Ella’s Kitchen launched a dedicated snacking range for kids aged three and above in May 2023. Piccolo launched a line of Squeezy Yogs for lunchboxes into Tesco in October.

These early developments could signal a shakeup of supermarket layouts in years to come, with babycare aisles shrinking to make way for weight management products. But if that is the case, perhaps we’ll do away with the birthday cake altogether… sorry, Colin!