The UK is going grey. Our population's age structure is predicted to shift dramatically in the next decade and beyond as people live longer and birth rates continue to fall. It's a fact that will not only lead to a significant rise in age-related health problems, but also an increase in the number of older people keen to retain their youthful health in a convenient and affordable way.

Cue a massive opportunity for food and drink manufacturers and, of course, you, the convenience store retailer.

A smattering of anti-oxidant rich and Omega 3-packed products which claim to offset the ravages of age have already cropped up in the past few years (Rubicon's Lutein-rich Papaya juice and Pomegreat's anti-oxidant packed fruit drink are just a couple) and, EU legislation permitting, the number of age-related functional products is expected to climb steeply over the next decade.

The fact that there is already a strong body of evidence supporting the benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids and Glucosamine in the improvement of joint health, and the use of Lutein in eye-related disorders, means that joint and eye health are likely to see the most activity in terms of product development and consumer acceptance in the coming few years, says Chris Brockman, market research manager at food research and development centre Leatherhead Food International.

However, manufacturers will need to be careful how they position and market new products, he warns. "Products will need to use an 'extending the active years' positioning rather than marketing them specifically for the elderly, not only because of regulatory problems relating to claims, but also because this is a grouping that no one really like to think of themselves as being in," he says.

Danone customer development controller Bryan Martins agrees that products which aim to address age-related problems will be key for the industry. "The ageing population clearly bodes well for functional foods and the yogurts sector in particular," he says. "The majority of our customers are already people over the age of 45 and there is still massive headroom."

And anti-ageing products won't be the only functional sector to set marketers' pulses racing. While energy shots are expected to continue their meteoric rise in popularity (although policy-makers will be looking to impose new guidelines and perhaps legislation governing their sale before long) conversely 2010 and 2011 is also expected to see the take-off of relaxation shots. Products which promote better skin and hair health, and satiety foods which keep consumers fuller for longer are also set to move up the planogram hierarchy.

However, despite their potent benefits, these transformational tools won't just sell themselves. The years ahead are likely to see a significant investment from manufacturers in educating and informing consumers about products and their benefits, and in efforts to dispel the scepticism which has started to gather around the industry in recent times.

Sales of some of the more established functional product categories have been subject to significant fluctuation over the past three years as shoppers became confused or sceptical about the products and their benefits.

"After the initial surge of npd we had the inevitable market shake-out which was accompanied by a gradual decline in the number of people buying into the category," says Müller UK marketing director Chris McDonough.

McDonough believes that the decline was driven by a consumer belief that functionality was "all hype and not real science". Work to push these beliefs aside has already begun in earnest. 2009 saw a number of the manufacturers, including Müller, reformulate their products and invest in clear-cut marketing campaigns to communicate products' functional benefits in a consumer friendly way and, according to McDonough, it's already paying dividends.

And as the number of growth areas continues to widen, so too will the mediums through which functional benefits can be delivered. The next couple of years will see the trend break out of the soft drinks and dairy sectors to manifest itself in everything from cereals, oils and vinaigrettes to chocolate bars, teas, biscuits and particularly bakery. Good for you goods are set to become a lot more exciting.
Retailer view

"Functional yogurts are becoming an increasingly valuable sector. However, I have noticed that sales are still quite dependent on price. When there is some kind of promotion on they fly off the shelves, but when there isn't they are much slower to move. Health is clearly becoming a big issue for shoppers, but for many price is still a more important consideration. I do see that changing in the future, though." Patrick Moon, Spar Hackenthorpe, Sheffield
Ones to watch...

Heavy on fibre: Kellogg's has launched a cereal bar which offers consumers 20% of their recommended daily fibre in less than 120 calories. Fibre Plus is expected to appeal to people who want a chocolate treat while getting more fibre in their diets. It is available in packs of four. rrp: £1.79 tel: 0800 626066 

Clean-up campaign: Eurostar Commodities recently launched Security Feel Better, a non-alcoholic digestif drink, in the UK. The product is made from plant and herb extracts, and helps the body to digest and eliminate toxins within 30 to 45 minutes of drinking. It comes in a single-serve 30ml bottle. rrp: £2.99 tel: 01422 377140 

Natural selection: NOM has broken into the probiotic drinks market with the launch of NOM Naturally Active. The 100g bottles are available in strawberry and multifruit flavours, with blueberry also joining the range later in the year. Each bottle contains L.casei bacteria to support natural defences. rrp: £1.59 for 6 x 100g tel: 0800 0469450 

Better for all: Müller Vitality yogurt drinks have been launched in fully recyclable packs. Müller has also reduced the weight of the bottle and cardboard carton sleeves and trays which, together with the removal of the film, will save more than 350 tonnes of packaging a year. rrp: £1.59 for four-pack tel: 01630 692000