It´s all in the package

How to make ready-made meal packages more attractive for older consumers

When people begin to age, they usually want to live independently as long as possible and thus postpone the move into an assisted living facility. However, such basic daily chores as preparing a meal can be a challenge for the elderly, especially when there are health and mobility issues.


Healthy cooking should be easy, especially for older consumers.

Nutritious ready-made meals could offer a solution, and at the same time help the elderly continue their independent lifestyle. A package design that suits the specific needs of the elderly is a prerequisite for promoting ready-made meals in this age group.  

To make the ready-made meals as attractive as possible, one should know what kind of packaging older consumers would prefer. To find out, two ESN members teamed up for a survey of Finnish and Dutch current seniors (age +65) and future seniors (age 55 - 64). Their results will be published in June 2017 in the magazine LWT - Food Science and Technology.

A window into the wishes of older consumers

1,221 people over 55 years old took part in the survey. ESN members VTT Technical Research Center of Finland Ltd and Wageningen Food and Biobased Research from the Netherlands conducted the research. They discovered four packaging features which their participants valued the most.

The writing on the package should be easy to read, the contents should be visible via a package ‘window’, the package should open easily, and it should be easy to dispose and recycle.

Raija-Liisa Heiniö from VTT states that, “Manufacturers should take these consumer desires into account when developing ready-made meals for the elderly: Is the print big enough? Can you open the package even when the strength and mobility of your fingers are decreasing? These questions should be part of the sensory testing when designing the meal packaging.”

The future senior man: eating it out of the package

Together with her research group Raija-Liisa Heiniö found only minor differences between the age groups, countries, and women and men. For example, men between the age of 55 and 64, a sample that represents the “future senior man”, who already use ready-made meals frequently, were more open to new kinds of ready-made meals. This segment of consumers appreciated the possibility of heating the ready-made meal in the package itself and eating it directly from the package.

On the contrary, older consumers preferred to place their ready-made meals on a regular plate before eating. In general, the consumers were not interested in ready-made meals that contain different segments of meal ingredients (multi-packages). “Contrary to the Finnish consumers, the Dutch consumers were more ready to use a tool to open the package,” reports Stefanie Kremer from Wageningen Food and Biobased Research.

Packaging can help seniors to eat healthier.

The results of the study should help manufacturers of ready-made meals align their product design to the needs of older consumers. For example, it could be a good idea to offer senior men a package that could be put in the oven and could also serve as a plate/bowl to eat from comfortably. “Appealing food packages alongside nutritious foods might make ready-made meals more popular among older consumers and help them to live autonomously for a longer time,” emphasizes VTT’s Raija-Liisa Heiniö.


Ready-made meal packaging e A survey of needs and wants among Finnish and Dutch ‘current’ and ‘future’ seniorsRaija-Liisa Heinioö (a), Anne Arvola (a), Elina Rusko (a), Anna Maaskant (b), Stefanie Kremer (b)

(a) VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd, Espoo, Finland(b) Wageningen UR Food and Biobased Research, Wageningen, The NetherlandsLWT - Food Science and Technology, Volume 79, June 2017, Pages 579–585;



Raija-Liisa Heinioö (VTT)     Stefanie Kremer (WUR)



Photos (from top to bottom): lightpoet -; euthymia -
Text: Fabienne Hübener
published: 28 Feb 2017