Richard Corbett believes he has found a consumer segment that is ripe for growth in the stagnant markets for soft drinks producers.

The over 55s are not traditionally a market that the soft drink industry would associate with being an important consumer base. We tend to assume that these 'oldies' are distracted by alcoholic drinks or choose to unwind with a hot tea or coffee.

But, a new consumer trends survey of ten key global markets from Canadean suggests that many soft drink players are missing a trick by focusing their attention on younger drinkers.

According to Canadean, these greying consumers made up 19% of the survey but drank more than a fifth of the soft drinks consumed in the markets surveyed. If you look at just the developed markets in the survey (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK and the US) then the consumption figure for these oldies jumps to as much as 27% of soft drinks sold.

The older consumer seems to have slipped under the soft drink marketer’s radar, particularly in the developed world.

The level of consumption of the over 55’s in the developed world does vary by category and is most prevalent in iced teas/iced coffees and sparkling soft drinks. They also punch above their weight in the bottled water and juices categories. Interestingly, the functional drink boom seems to have passed them by – energy drinks in particular have a much younger age profile.

What the survey seems to say is that, as we age, we are increasingly taking our consumption habits with us; older consumers are simply refreshing themselves as they did in their youth. For this reason, it seems likely that the grey dollar will become increasingly important to the soft drinks industry. Just because the population is ageing in some developed markets, that doesn't mean the prospects for soft drinks are being diluted.

If you drill down a little closer into the numbers, another important feature of the market becomes apparent. It is older women that are often responsible for amplifying the percentages in favour of older consumers.

Of these older consumers, women account for 56% of soft drinks consumption, men just 44%. Women in this age group are not so drawn to alcoholic drinks and hot drinks as their male counterparts, raising the importance of soft drinks.

The bias towards older women can be traced to the fact that the survey reports more soft drink consumption occasions for older women than older men. The survey does seem to have identified an untapped audience for soft drink operators to target; the older woman consumer.

There are some ‘adult soft drinks’ out there, but these tend to be positioned at the higher end of the market and often compete with alcoholic drinks. They are normally packed in a glamorous looking glass bottle with a price to match.

Unfortunately, what really stands out in the survey is that the older consumer is the most price sensitive of all age segments; none more so than the older woman drinker. This is borne out by the fact that older consumers drink more private label soft drink products than all other age groups.

So, if you want to appeal to the older female drinker then you probably have to start with your pricing before your bottle design.

Health also scores highly in the trends survey for older women in developed markets, suggesting that this could be another way the industry can develop products to appeal to the mature lady. Low calorie products in particular are the obvious segment of the market which has more of a feminine appeal.

Certain flavours can also tick the health boxes. Vegetable juices, pomegranate and cranberry are three such flavours that enjoy a good reputation among female drinkers and are often perceived as healthier than more traditional flavour options.

With soft drinks consumption showing sluggish - or declining - growth in developed markets, recognising and targeting different segments of the market will give soft drinks players an advantage on their rivals. Importantly, it will enable them to grow their volumes when everybody else is struggling to. Nothing in life is ever as it seems and only the foolhardy assume that the traditional stereotypes of soft drinks consumption still apply.

The soft drinks consumer continues to evolve constantly, exposing new opportunities to target.