Carol Wong-Li
Carol Wong-Li is Associate Director, Lifestyles and Leisure for Mintel. Carol researches and writes reports on the Canadian lifestyle and leisure industries.

Often overlooked, seniors are a key segment brands should be paying attention to as they are a sizable portion of the population at 6.3 million, and the current prevention efforts such as social distancing have a greater impact on their daily life due to demographic differences. Combined, these factors put seniors at greater risk of mental health issues including depression and loneliness.

Amplified risk of loneliness and depression

Among the most at risk to serious consequences of COVID-19, seniors should be taking greater precautions to avoid public exposure. According to Mintel research on senior lifestyles in Canada, nine in 10 seniors live in one or two-person households. While younger consumers may be overwhelmed by the constant presence of others in the household, over-65s face the opposite issue as they tend to live in smaller households, meaning they have fewer social touchpoints at home.

Before the pandemic, seniors were already more susceptible to loneliness and depression. The current social distancing and self-isolation measures will increase the risk of both conditions.

Not all touchpoints are created equal

Heading into the pandemic, seniors were feeling well supported socially; on par with the average for having many close friends and less likely to feel challenged to make new ones. Unsurprisingly, their preference leans heavily towards in-person interactions over digital ones.

With over four out of five seniors avoiding crowded spaces as a result of the outbreak, now is a critical time to nudge seniors towards virtual interactions to stay socially connected, while staying safe.

Interest-led gatherings will feel less intimidating

Much like connecting with younger consumers, creating platforms for virtual social gatherings such as scheduled knitting sessions over online video messaging apps should draw their interest. Focusing on the area of interest as opposed to it being a digital connection will matter. Communicating participation in such groups often requires only a log-in will help to ease worries about technical know-how. Similarly, showcasing how smart speakers with video capabilities allow family members to connect simply and safely will resonate with seniors. The notion of ‘gifting’ such devices to keep connected with older family members may also prove meaningful now. Looking ahead, investment in this regard could also have lasting benefits as this could be a continued way to connect with seniors after the pandemic subsides.

According to Mintel research on senior lifestyles in Canada, beauty and fashion brands could draw seniors through virtual fashion shows or chat groups as only two in five seniors feel they’re too old to keep up-to-date with fashion or beauty trends. Similarly, senior-friendly exercise or movement classes may appeal to more than half of seniors citing ‘health improvement’ as their top priority.

Social distancing has a bigger impact on how time is spent

While three in five seniors who feel their days are busy, social distancing measures are severely hindering how seniors spend their time, according to Mintel research on senior lifestyles in Canada. Where time is restricted more by external considerations like balancing schedules for younger consumers, seniors have more freedom to spend time on personal interests and hobbies, including public excursions like mall walks, day-time dining at foodservice vendors and daily grocery shopping trips to buy food for meals they will make that day.

The avoidance of crowds and public places forces seniors to change their routines, which unfortunately involves the routines that involve social contact.

Implications for businesses

With seniors being just as likely to be engaged in social distancing measures as the overall population, support from companies needs to be about finding ways to help them sustain their quality of life in light of the current circumstances.

According to Statistics Canada, a key determinant of life satisfaction for seniors is their ability to remain self-sufficient. As with connecting with younger consumers, ample opportunities exist across categories to support seniors by catering to the unique differences identified above.

Local brands are well-positioned to build a stronger bond

According to Mintel research on the ethical consumer in Canada, this is a good time for local brands to increase their presence as seniors are the most likely to favour products that are made in Canada and motivated to buy locally made products. Local businesses embarking on this strategy are likely to see greater traction by reminding consumers that these programs are made by Canadians in support of Canadians.

Grocery shopping habits are impacted

Seniors are more likely to be shopping during the weekdays to buy ingredients for meals they will be making later that day. This implies that prior to the outbreak, seniors made more frequent trips with smaller item lists than average, such as buying what they need day-by-day.

Current social distancing measures impact logistics surrounding grocery shopping for seniors. Even with senior-friendly hours offered by many companies, over-65s need to limit the frequency of shopping trips made weekly. Fewer trips mean larger purchases in terms of volume and packaging. Managing larger physical packages and more bags to stock up pantries presents more of a challenge for older consumers, particularly as they are the least likely to be buying their groceries online.

E-commerce could see a long-lasting boost

In China, the SARS epidemic pushed online retail into the mainstream, with the COVID-19 outbreak forcing further adaptation including older consumers relying on buying groceries online.

In Canada, meal kit delivery services and online grocery shopping remain fairly niche with only a quarter of the population doing either as of 2018, according to Mintel research on grocery retailing in Canada. As of mid-April, just over one-third of Canadians say they have increased the amount of shopping they do online as a result of the outbreak. Promoting such services during this time may fast-track Canadians in a similar manner to China, particularly with regards to the adoption of e-commerce by seniors.

Seniors are already more attentive to their health

As discussed in Mintel Trend, ‘Total Wellbeing’, consumers are treating their bodies like an ecosystem and seeking solutions that complement the various areas of personal health. Canadian seniors are no different from younger consumers in taking a well-rounded approach to health management. Specifically, seniors are just as likely to focus on their nutritional health as they are on getting quality rest and sleep.

While the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic is sure to intensify focus on health and wellness for all segments, concerns surrounding wellness may be elevated for seniors given their age and greater likelihood to be dealing with chronic issues and other health ailments.

Three-quarters of Canadian seniors feel it is important to regularly monitor their key health indicators and such devices have an important role to play to help them keep track of such information in a reliable and consistent manner. Having this type of information on hand will allow seniors to have more productive conversations with their doctors, helping them take control of health issues in times when accessing healthcare providers for regular visits may be more difficult.