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Adult diapers will soon outsell baby nappies in Japan

Tuesday, 3 Sep 2013 | 7:10 PM ET
An elderly man does a coloring exercise at a day care facility, Japan.
Yuriko Nakao | Bloomberg | Getty Images
An elderly man does a coloring exercise at a day care facility, Japan.

Get this: sales of adult diapers are set to overtake sales of baby nappies in Japan by next year, according to Euromonitor, a blunt reflection of how rapidly the world's third-largest economy is aging.

"The social taboo around incontinence [products] has been reduced due to manufacturer campaigns directed at the elderly," said Keita Tamaoki, research analyst at Euromonitor.

"The strong desire for independent lifestyles and maintaining an active routine without dependence on children or relatives will present ample opportunities for manufacturers to support the elderly consumers' lifestyles," said Tamaoki.

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In Japan, which is home to the fastest aging society globally, citizens aged 65 and older account for 25.1 percent of the overall population, up from 17.4 percent in 2000. This is more than double that of South Korea and China whose elderly populations currently stand at 12.2 and 11.1 percent of the population, respectively.

Sales of adult diapers in Japan are projected to rise 25 percent between 2012 and 2017, according to Euromonitor, which noted that leading manufacturers such as Unicharm and Daio Paper are ramping up their focus on the segment.

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The country's expanding base of elderly consumers, a demographic with both disposable income and time, is providing a lucrative opportunity for domestic retailers, analysts say.

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Last year, for example, Aeon, one of country's leading mall developers, opened a new shopping center outside Tokyo with stores and services geared towards senior customers as well as features like larger signage and escalators that operate at a slower speed.

In December, Nippon Travel Agency launched a website called Precious AGE, which targets elderly consumers by offering high-quality travel packages that accommodate their needs.

"After years of working in highly demanding jobs and often sacrificing free time in order to put in additional overtime hours at work, the current crop of baby boomers is ready to enjoy some much needed personal time," said Tokyo-based Ayako Homma, research analyst at Euromonitor.

(Read more: Aging baby boomers may find long-term care elusive)

However, the research firm notes that not everyone relies on such products and services. "Older consumers are a diverse segment and whilst some do benefit from products and services designed to make their lives easier, many are continuing to live full and active lives," it said.

—By CNBC's Ansuya Harjani; Follow her on Twitter @Ansuya_H

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