Consumers are living longer due to medical advances, better nutrition and improved living conditions. Recent research published in The Lancet suggests that British children born in 2007 could feasibly expect to live to 103, while in Japan they would live to 107. Though this scenario might present governments with the challenge of finding solutions to the financial burden of ageing populations, it nevertheless offers soft drinks producers with a growing and captive target market: the ageing consumer. Annette Farr reports.

Adult soft drinks have been around for decades. In the US, they are sometimes called 'new age' drinks and in the UK 'premium soft drinks' and, since some contain herbs, 'herbal soft drinks'. For the most part, the categories have been niche, providing a sophisticated taste for an adult palate, and thus are promoted and marketed as an alternative to alcohol.

But the dynamic of adult soft drinks is set to change. Analysts are forecasting that a growing ageing population is going to make a significant impact on consumer markets. Datamonitor, publisher of a number of reports on ageing and its implications, says young adults have traditionally been a key target demographic, but marketers will need to adapt in order to maximise the huge potential of the seniors market.

We are going to be seeing more and more anti-ageing products, not only cosmetic but also self-medicating. For soft drinks, the opportunity lies in functional new product development.

This is already happening in the US for the nation's indulged and influential 'baby boomers' generation. Drinks which offer a medicinal function are popularly called nutraceuticals. Supple, a new functional beverage for 'healthy joints', is a perfect example. Its creator Peter Apatow suffers from arthritis and developed the drink when conventional medicine failed to deliver pain relief. The drink contains glucosamine and chondroitin and is said to give resilience to cartilage and strengthen ligaments surrounding the joint.

Böde Heart Health is another. Developed by Hydro One Premium Beverages, the drink contains ingredients (plant sterols, rape seed extract, decaffeinated green tea extract, acai, folic acid, magnesium) to reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular disease. The company's founders, Dr Baban and Dr Fields, state: "The combination we have perfected has been proven to lower LDL cholesterol concentrations which can lead to a reduction in heart disease risk of 25 %."

The growing US shots market is another 'senior' opportunity identified by newly-launched HealthShots. Already unveiled are BrainRefresh, Man's Edge, Sustained Energy and Immunity shots. A Joint health shot is in the pipeline. All are fortified with functional blends.

Functional ingredient suppliers will be much in evidence at this month's FiE show which takes place in Frankfurt from 17-19 November. Here, exhibitors will be addressing the full gamut of health concerns which affect the older consumer.

When it comes to joint health, Gelita AG can show that, on the basis of magnetic resonance images, its Fortigel product promotes the regeneration of cartilage tissue. For healthy bones, Israeli company Gadot Biochemical has developed the calcium-based Gadocal range specifically designed for fortifying juices and mineral waters, whilst Lonza Sales Ltd has a number of branded health ingredients including DHAid, a purely vegetarian source of omega-3 DHA which is said to protect and support brain, heart and eye health.

Vegetarian DHA omega-3 is creating excitement. Martek Biosciences' research suggests DHA may help maintain cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of developing dementia in later years. For the first time, a Europe-wide recommended daily intake of 250mg per day for long chain omega-3 fatty acids has been proposed by the European Food Safety Authority on this basis.

Elsewhere, Archer Daniel Midland's CardioAid range of phytosterols and phytoserol esters have approval as novel food ingredients and can be used in beverage applications targeted at reducing blood cholesterol levels. The company has also developed Novasoy soya isoflavone concentrates aimed at women going through the menopause.

According to Mintel, more than 1,000 non-alcoholic beverages containing herbs have been launched in the last five years. German company Plantextrakt has developed a range of superherbs combining fruits and herbs such as hibiscus, balm mint and green rooibos. "With the number of consumers increasing all the time, there is a particularly large demand for products with high antioxidant potential," said Oliver Hehn, product manager at Plantextrakt.

Meanwhile, 'How can we Health you?' is the question being posed by DSM. At Frankfurt, the company will highlight its solutions for eye, bone, heart and immune health and successful ageing, featuring eight ready-to-drink beverages each with their own ingredient mix and targeted health benefit.

The FiE show confirms that functional product innovation is rife. However, growth in Europe could be stifled by the EU Nutrition and Health Claims Directive where a stringent approach is being applied to health claims. It has been reported that, on 1 October, 70% of some 500 presentations were rejected. Companies are going to require solid proof going forward that any health claims are backed by accredited clinical trial.

The same is true in the US. Besides the FDA, watchdog organisations are keeping a very close eye on health claims, as Coca-Cola's Minute Maid has discovered. It has been asked to discontinue TV advertising that suggested an omega-3 DHA fortified pomegranate and blueberry superjuice could give an immediate memory boost. The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus said that while evidence indicating claims that the product "helps nourish your brain" were founded, specific claims about memory boosting were not.