Golden opportunities in the 'silver hair' market

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 September, 2016, 8:46am

While some people worry about the ageing population, others look at the positive side. A few weeks ago I wrote about the possible benefits of rethinking when and how we retire and the potential of the elderly as productive citizens. A growing number of forward-thinking entrepreneurs also see them as a new market.

The over-60s currently make up about 18 per cent of our population; in other places, like Singapore, Britain and the US, they account for about 16 to 22 per cent. In Japan, the figure is more than 30 per cent, while in South and Southeast Asia it is only about 7 to 9 per cent. In mainland China - which is a place Hong Kong entrepreneurs think about a lot - it is about 12 per cent; that's 166 million people.

These percentages are set to rise considerably in future. In Hong Kong's case, some 30 per cent of us will be over 60 by the early 2030s. This is the sort of shift that perceptive long-term business investors look out for.

Look at the TV commercials and advertising you see all around you every day. It seems we are a society of young (and of course, thin, glamorous and successful) consumers. For many people in the marketing field, youth is a major target audience. With few family or other commitments, young people have cash, and they love to spend it on all the latest clothing, technology and lifestyle accessories.

You might find it hard to imagine marketing executives at a consumer products company sitting round a table discussing how to appeal more, and sell more, to the elderly. But that is exactly what we are going to see happen. Young consumers will shrink as a market segment, while a healthier and wealthier market of senior citizens will grow in size.

Some will need goods and services to help them as they decline physically. Governments and the private sector are already aware of growing demand for care homes, for example.

But the 'silver hair' market, as it is sometimes called, will be about more than that. Many of these consumers will be in good health, and they will be interested in goods and services like health foods, clothing, travel packages and entertainment. This market will not be a bigger version of today's elderly; it will have maybe double the education and skills of today's older generation.

This is a group of people who will want more choices, for instance in food; they will probably be less conservative and traditional in their tastes than today's elderly, but nor will they want the sort of food teenagers eat.

They will want fashionable clothes but not the sort of clothes that the young consider trendy. Maybe you can't imagine trendy clothes for the elderly - a high-end brand aimed at over-60s - but someone will, and their business will do very well. The same goes for tour itineraries and entertainment and media.

In time, they will need more traditional goods and services for the aged, like mobility aids and assisted living. But, even here, they will have their own tastes and expectations. They have lived more comfortable lives than today's elderly.

Essentially, we are talking about a market with the sophistication of today's middle-aged population - because they are, of course, the same people. The middle-aged today have their hands full with children, mortgages and retirement savings. Companies don't see them as a very interesting market for many sorts of discretionary or fashionable purchases. But they are the big consumers of tomorrow.

My own business involves insurance and health care, so this is something that interests me, and I know that other businesses are also looking ahead. If you are wondering where the next emerging market will be - now you know.

Bernard Chan is a former member of the executive and legislative councils