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Eat to Live: Seniors as a food-ad target

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Aug 23, 2005 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- "I will take over the cooking," my father informed my mother when he retired. "You've done it for me over the past. Now I will do it for you." Off he went to buy a cookbook and for the next decade and more, regularly made lunch and produced dinners good enough for friends.

He was a rare example, however. A recent report from Datamonitor reveals seniors in 2004 accounted for 26 percent of the European market in ready meals. This amounts to $20.53 billion, which is why the over-55 set is becoming the new target for food producers.

"The idea of cooking from scratch for one is generally unappealing," said consumer markets analyst Daniel Bone of the growing numbers of single older people living alone.

Still, designers of ready meals should not presume seniors will tolerate just any old stuff. These eaters are not like children -- they have a lifetime of meals behind them.

Plus there is impressive evidence of who is spending what. Senior ready-meal consumers are led, with a formidable expenditure of $470 million, by the finicky food-focused French. They are followed by the Brits at $432 million, with the Germans at $376 million.

"Manufacturers need to be aware that they must offer the older consumer a sense of pride in feeling there was some skill in preparing the meal," Bone said.

This may perturb those behind the catering at Red Lobster, IHOP, Denny's and more, whose booths are filled with seniors filling themselves with comforting breaded, deep-fried and starchy entrees the color of George Hamilton's tan.

How many seniors, European or otherwise, have spent their lives eating inadequate foods of the sort currently promoted to children in the United States on television through ads and product placement in programs?

Roughly $12 billion is spent annually on advertising directed at young Americans. The Federal Trade Commission recently held a meeting on marketing to children, but it side-stepped the issue of government intervention in the matter.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, like the Bush administration, opposes mandated national standards in advertising aimed at children. Instead, it is pushing for tighter voluntary restrictions that specify limits to product placement in TV shows and the use of licensed characters in advertisements and food packaging. Deborah Platt Majoras, the head of the Federal Trade Commission, thinks the industry could deal with problems more effectively than government.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, does not agree. He has introduced legislation calling for national standards covering child-focused advertising. Voluntary regulations, he said, "have no teeth, no enforcement mechanisms."

Although the food business sees a valuable continuing market promoted through television in children's foods that may not conform to nutritional standards, it also recognizes that at the other end of the age scale, a profitable opportunity to develop convenience meals for senior singles that have the authenticity and nutritional value of a good dinner may exist.

Here is one of my father's favorite dishes, a nourishing meal to appeal to seniors and juniors alike. It re-heats well and left-overs, with the crusty bits removed, can be gently formed into fishcakes for flouring and slowly fried in a little vegetable oil and a teaspoon of butter for flavor.

Fish pie

Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds white fish

1 pint milk

1 bayleaf

4 ounces butter

2 ounces flour

2 hardboiled eggs, peeled and quartered

1 tablespoon drained capers

4 tablespoons roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley

salt and pepper to taste

Topping made from 2 pounds of peeled and boiled potatoes mashed with 2 tablespoons of butter and 1/4 warm milk, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, salt and plenty of black pepper.

Gently cook the fish in 1/2 pint of the milk and the bayleaf in a saute pan over medium heat till opaque, about 10-15 minutes. Remove and leave to cool. Strain the milk into a mug and wash and dry the saute pan. In it melt the butter, then add the flour and stir gently over low heat until it becomes pale golden sandy granules. Stirring continuously, slowly pour in the milk from the fish, then the remaining milk and let simmer while stirring. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove the skin from the fish and flake into large pieces. Lay in a baking dish, scatter over the capers and the quartered eggs then pour over the white sauce. Cover the whole with the mashed potatoes, leaving the top rough. Bake in a pre-heated 400F oven for 30 minutes or until it is bubbling and the top has turned gold


UPI Health News welcomes comments and questions about this column. E-mail:

Copyright 2005 by United Press International.

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