Protecting food security for our elderly residents

Twenty-five: Lives seen through food exhibition.

Twenty-five: Lives seen through food exhibition. - Credit: Archant

I’d like to talk about food shopping this week, and in particular, food shopping when you are older – if you don’t use a car or do your shopping online, how are you getting on?

Twenty-five: Lives seen through food exhibition.

Twenty-five: Lives seen through food exhibition. - Credit: Archant

The University of Hertfordshire got in touch to tell me about an exhibition they are hosting at the Jubilee Centre in St Albans town centre (November 7, 8, 10) aimed at older shoppers and their families, as well as supermarkets, food stalls and shops, cafés, pubs and restaurants. Called Twenty-five: Lives seen through food, it explores food in later life in 25 households, and reveals some really interesting findings.

Staying in control of your own food shopping is considered key by older people determined to retain their independence and sense of community belonging. With one in 10 people aged over 65 in England and Wales suffering from, or at risk of, malnutrition, regular trips to the shops can ensure older people continue to have access to the food they want to eat. Crucially, food shopping provides older people with opportunities for social interaction as the risk of loneliness increases. Places that introduce creative, practical measures to improve the buying experience for older customers can help protect older people’s ‘food security’, and appeal to an increasingly important target market.

I was interested to know why shopping might be different for older people; the research found that when you can no longer use a car, or you rely on public transport, for example, it affects your choices and shopping habits. I shop a lot online, but the Uni research found that older people were less keen on this and saw it as “a last resort”, preferring to choose their own food and enjoy the social interaction.

Study participants felt that supermarket in-store offers tend to target families (e.g. BOGOF deals).

Older people described themselves as ‘canny shoppers’ who enjoy comparing prices and ‘finding bargains’, but find that money-off coupons are often aimed at people who spend a minimum amount in one shop. My 91-year old grandma loves the £10 weekend meal deal at Marks & Spencer, which she says lasts her three days, for example.

Helpful staff were also identified as valued – so when supermarkets move to more automated tills, that can be off-putting and even worrying to some customers. It’s a reminder to the busy shoppers who are confident with technology that the person in front of you in the queue might be finding it stressful – especially if you are getting impatient!

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It was interesting to hear that German supermarket Kaiser’s has attached magnifying glasses to some of its trolleys to make reading food labels easier and Japanese supermarket Aeon Kasai has installed resting areas throughout its stores.

On a smaller scale, if you run a cafe or pub, for example, you might like to think about offers for earlier in the week, when business is quiet. Poor acoustics can be an issue too. Obviously some businesses are good at this already, but talking to the team behind the research may help you find some new ideas about how to retain and attract older custmers.

During the exhibition there will be talks about ‘Slow Shopping’ from Katherine Vero, Founder of Slow Shopping and Michelle Carruthers MBE, Chief Executive of Food Train, Scotland, and the organisers hope it will inspire retailers in Hertfordshire to make some changes.

This free exhibition will open to the public on November 7-8 10am-5pm and November 10 10am-2pm.