Barriers to food shopping for older people

This blog was contributed by Gretel Jones, Policy Officer (Consumer Markets) at Age UK. 

Older people are an important and growing consumer group.  For the first time, there are more people aged over 65 than under 16 in the UK.  This growth in the older population is estimated to continue for the foreseeable future.

From a business point of view, older consumers are the only growing market there is.  Sadly, although the Government has recognised the implications of an ageing society on public services, the same does not seem to be the case for the private sector.  Many marketers do not understand or address the older population and consequently this is a segment that often gets misrepresented, neglected or ignored.

Difficulties in getting to the shops

Difficulties increased with age.  While only 8% of 60 to 64 year olds had difficulty this rose to 19% for the 80 to 84s and 60% for those aged over 90.  This is very relevant given it is the older older age group that is estimated to be the fastest growing segment of older people.  This of course is exacerbated for people living in rural areas where public transport links are so poor.  Also relevant to the journey is the difficulty older people have in carrying heavy shopping home.

Difficulties in the store

Poor store layout, poor lighting, aisles that are too narrow and lack of seating and toilet facilities can cause problems. Deep trolleys and freezers make it hard to get shopping out and it is hard to reach up to the top shelf or down to the bottom ones.  Size of fonts on shelf labels can be too small for them to see.

A new problem is lack of confidence in using the self-service checkouts which are bound to be on the increase.

Meeting the needs of older people

Ease of opening of packaging is a constant criticism from older people. Vacuum packs, opening tins and jars and childproof bottles are particularly problematic. But equally difficult is the food information on the packs.  Often in print that is too small and with insufficient colour contrasts makes it difficult to read.

About 37% of older people live alone.  But a lot of other age groups do as well and it is estimated that there will be an 18% growth in single-person households by 2031.  Yet food retailers seem to target larger households which often increases the costs of food shopping for smaller ones.

Age UK’s new report, Food Shopping in Later Life, gives details on six of the shopping services provided by local Age UKs that aim to help older people to shop.  It also makes a number of recommendations for retailers that would be helpful for older people.

Read our new report Food Shopping in Later Life

Find out more about our work on consumer issues

5 responses to “Barriers to food shopping for older people

  1. It is very good to see that something of an organised professional approach is being set up in order to make life less stressful for older people.
    At the same time it is also important that the elderly are not prevented from doing as much as they can for themselves. Shopping is a big thing in their lives. They get out maybe buy a couple of things which they can carry. The free pass is better than all the tablets the Doctors prescribe.
    At my bustop I see the same old,and often very old,people who have got up,got dressed and got out . The Easy Access bus is also a great help here and we are lucky where I live to have so many. Yet in Glos where my sister lives the local bus requires the skill of an alpine climber to get on.
    But well done AGE UK .

  2. This blog highlights a hugely problematic area and I’m really glad it is being focused on more.

    As a health professional working with this age group I have experienced that the primary difficulty is getting to the supermarket, and mobilising around it safely. This has a costly effect on social care, as to my knowledge most care packages have an element of food shopping in the care plan. Being unable to open packaging and labels on food seem to me and have not really been mentioned as a particular problem by my patients at least. Perhaps this is because the older population tend to stick to the foods they know and there are many small kitchen aids which have been developed to counteract tricky packaging. However I really hope that increased emphasis is placed on transport and especially escorts like the service in Norwich mentioned in age uk’s food shopping for later life.

    Is this service likely to be replicated in other localities?

    Food shopping is an effort for most of us fit and well, therefore services simply dropping the elderly at the supermarket door will not cut the mustard, physical assistance, reassurance and tranport are needed in combination.

  3. An interesting report, although I think that quite a lot has been done lately to help elderly people, to be honest. I agree that rural public transport is totally dire though. If my grandad wants to go anywhere by public transport he’d first have to walk 20 minutes to the nearest bus stop and then wait an hour for the bus, if he just so happened to miss one. They never run on time, either! Good on you for doing this, Age UK.

  4. Elizabeth Owen

    I am 85, fairly old, I am not lonely, I can do my shopping, I have a scooter, one of those lovely chairs that push you up, and a extra high loo seats. I do think that there should be some one to go to those older folks who do not know where to get help. It is all there, if you know who to ask and where to go. Elizabeth

  5. I did not like the major premise of this article and especially its first statement in comparing those Age 16 to those Age 65 to make the point that there is an increasing number of people over Age 65 in the population. Firstly, this article is about shopping, and very few up to Age 16 do not do any household shopping at all in the first place, so why are they being used as a way to focus and identify the problems of a particular age group who may or may not be having problems shopping. The comparison could just have easily been between the age group 21 to 45 years for instance (huge increase in this age group) who do a lot of shopping, and using this age group, the increase is non-existent, there are more in this group than those 65 and older. I think pitching 16 yr olds versus 65-ers is the beginning of demonising the elderly. Secondly, conditions in supermarkets are applicable to all shoppers, e.g. poor lighting, crowded aisles, high/low shelving, lack of toilets, etc. I am not sure how valid it is to criticise supermarkets for lack of seating, many supermarkets have cafe areas where you can sit for awhile, okay you might have to purchase a cup of something, but again, this point is relevant to all shoppers, including moms/dads with children, not just to those over 65. Many, not just ‘the elderly’ are ‘packaging challenged’ with all the new tight seal vaccuum pack methods, tight jar lids, etc. Likewise,anyone who wears glasses, plenty in the age 21-45 group too on that one, can have difficulties reading labels and food price tags. In the main, these are the fault of production packaging and supermarket controls, which other consumer groups are likewise concerned with. Separating 65-ers and comparing them to 16 yr olds is completely arbitrary and irrelevant. The problems of all shoppers and being an ‘elderly person’ (whatever that is) should not be confused with the real issues like bad supermarket management, labelling and prices issues, and what we all expect from a supermarket in the first place. By the way, if you shop in the street market or at a farm stall, which many ‘elderly’ do as it is cheaper and you can buy smaller, there are no seats, no toilets, and it could be out in the rain/any weather. I think this article muddles the issues and also unfairly demonises older people.

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