Hannes Richter

A Grocery Chain Extends a Hand

Hannes Richter

Adeg Aktiv Markt 50+

The Adeg Aktiv Markt 50+ is Europe's first supermarket designed for shoppers over 50. The labels are big, the aisles are wide, the floors are nonskid, even when wet; and there are plenty of places to sit down. The customer can borrow a pair of reading glasses from the store or reach for one of the magnifying glasses hanging from chains in the grocery aisles and dairy cases.

The supermarket, which opened last year on the outskirts of the city of Salzburg, Austria, is the first attempt by Adeg, an Austrian subsidiary of the German food company Edeka, to address Europe's most pressing demographic trend: an aging population. The median age in Europe is 37.7, but it is expected to rise to 52.3 by 2050 because of a plummeting birth rate (the population is in fact diminishing) and a longer life expectancy. A quarter of all Austrians and a third of the Germans are expected to be 60 or older by 2015. In the United States, the population is also aging, though not as rapidly as in Europe. The median age of 35 is expected to remain steady over the next 50 years. Kurt Erlacher, the project manager with Adeg who oversaw creation of the new market, sees some distinct advantages in pursuing the older shopper.

"This group has a lot of buying power. They have already paid off their homes and cars and their children are out of the house. Their disposable income is higher." Some of the appealing differences in the store are neatly stocked shelves of attractive goods. The lights are specially calibrated to reduce glare on elderly customers' more sensitive eyes. The shelves are lower so products are within easy reach. And in addition to regular shopping carts, there are carts that hook on to wheelchairs and carts that double as seats for the weary. There is even a machine to check blood pressure. Half of the customers are under 50, a statistic that surprised the company.

These customers come because it's friendly and bright. Many of the innovations, such as wider parking spaces, are particularly appealingfor mothers with children. The new store was two years in the making, as Adeg conducted extensive research on the generation approaching retirement, as well as current pensioners. It's not like 20 years ago when people turned 60 and were considered old. " This group is highly active and mobile. The employees of the store are all over 50. Without workers over the age of 50 this concept would only be worth 50 percent of what it is," Mr. Erlacher said.