Swiss tap into the grey market
The Swiss are gearing up to produce a new generation of user-friendly products that are specifically targeted at the elderly.
With the number of pensioners expected to rise substantially in Switzerland, the older age group is now considered an important market for companies.
The grey market and how best to serve it was the subject of a recent conference held in Lausanne by the government’s Innovation and Promotion Agency.
It followed the launch of the agency’s “Innovation for Successful Ageing” initiative at the beginning of this year, which promotes projects leading to products and services for the elderly.
Experts say that the older population is rising rapidly in Switzerland, with one in three Swiss predicted to be over 60 by 2030. This is expected to open up new opportunities for the economy.
But delegates heard that a study by St Gallen University – which interviewed 100 Swiss companies in 11 different industries - showed that many Swiss companies were lagging behind when it comes to offering a product range for older people.
“About 85 per cent said they believe they should adjust their products to be more senior-friendly, but only 29 per cent have begun to do it, ” said Johannes Kaufmann, head of the Innovation and Promotion Agency.
But he said that the good news was that products for the elderly were likely to be a money-spinner.
The older generation generally has more disposable cash. The study found that, according to 2001 figures, the over 55s had SFr15 billion ($13 billion) in available income.
Some Swiss companies have already jumped onto the bandwagon. One such invention, called MobiClick, - a pensioner-friendly mobile phone with just three keys - is selling well in its first year.
The first button is on/off, the second is an alarm to call for assistance, and the third connects to a pre-dialled friend or family member. Vodafone is selling the model.
Nestlé food scientist Martin Michel said that the Swiss food giant was enriching many of its food products with calcium and has created a “heart-smart” menu.
Michel added that, due to a growing awareness of osteoporosis in women and heart attacks in men, these products were selling well.
And if all that is not enough, the “smart home” is on the horizon, said Patrick Roe, an engineer in research at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne.
The occupant will have a remote control - already in production in America - for home heating, airflow, window blinds and, of course, the television set.
Roe added that the smart home was just one part of a “revolution” in products for the older generation.
“For the past ten years, talking about this was a bit like howling in the desert, but things are finally starting to happen,” he said.
Pierre Aeby of Pro Senectute, the Swiss organisation for the elderly, said the revolution was long overdue, adding that he supported any measures to help the aged remain in their own homes.
Roe also pointed out that the modern pensioner was interested in staying up-to-date and had a good eye for design.
“People who have brought out designs for older people or disabled people have found that everybody wants to buy them,” he said.
That’s especially true of the Japanese “Rakuphone”, whose big buttons, typeface and sound have led to big sales.
For his part, Kaufmann believes today’s older generation will redefine old age.
“Older people today are a different breed from those of 50 or 60 years ago – they are healthier, happier, well travelled and savvy,” said Kaufmann.
“And they can play an important role in society. All they need is a little help.”
swissinfo, Elizabeth Meen
New products include:
Cell phones with a big keypad, easy-to-read numbers, louder sound and an emergency button.
Video cell phones and internet-based phones on which the deaf can use sign language on-screen.
"Smart" houses, linked with support services and equipped with remote control, so some awkward jobs are done with the push of a button.
One in three Swiss is predicted to be over 60 by 2030.
This is expected to open up new opportunities for the economy.
But a study of 100 Swiss companies in 11 different industries showed that many Swiss companies are failing to offer products for older people.
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