The COVID-19 pandemic has issued a global wakeup call to the critical role of immune health. Consumers are making the connection between good nutrition and strong immunity, and are seeking immune-supporting ingredients in supplements, foods and beverages. Product developers and marketers have an opportunity to use this mind-shift to create long-term relationships with newfound consumers.
Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ), a leading market intelligence organization for the natural products industry, recently released a special report on immune health. While a majority of the data and market manifestations (product launch examples) are focused on the U.S. market, the learnings have global application, and may guide new product development worldwide.
Consider the impact on the investor community. At the halfway point for 2020, tracking data from Nutrition Capital Network (NCN) revealed that investment transactions around immunity are down substantially from where they were at the end of 2016, though trending upward from 2019. Where the immunity innovation is happening, however, offers clues to where investors might like to see product development focused. Consider that as beverages are increasingly accepted by consumers as a platform for functional ingredients, investors are putting their money behind immunity-claim beverages. And even though it can feel like vitamins and minerals might be so basic that there is no innovation left, investors are still looking for brands that can develop new formats and formulations.
In terms of the supplements market, many leading marketers interviewed by NBJ predict that some behavior changes will persist long after COVID-19 is contained. However, making sure that immunity is more than a seasonal strategy is the supplement industry’s greatest challenge in the new normal. Brands should be aiming at immunity as lifestyle, immunity as a 12-month concern. That’s an easy match for multivitamins formulated with immunity ingredients, less so for other items. In fact, product launches in the immune space have primarily focused on go-to standards rather than new ingredients.
But that innovation issue could be one of timing. Studies underway now might only show up as claims on the shelf two years from now. As it stands, there are many ingredients with clinical research and substantiated health effects in the immune health space, which could be incorporated into formulations—local and national regulations permitting. The NBJ report outlines some of the most promising, as well as the state of the science, including:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin C
- Olive leaf extract
- Medicinal mushrooms
- B vitamins
- Probiotics and prebiotics
Some of these offerings are also being found in food and beverage launches, where innovation is a constant and consumers are interested in different ways to consume functional ingredients. Immunity could be a way for brands to create new habits for new customers and create relationships that outlive the sudden urgency around immunity. In fact, the consumer survey portion of the NBJ report delves into the reasons consumers are making lifestyle and diet changes. Among consumers who eat or drink specific things to support their immune systems, the report states, nearly two-thirds consume food or beverages with immunity claims or added ingredients at least weekly. An important takeaway? “Establishing a long-term relationship with a consumer when there is so much competition is a different challenge. As with all things food and beverages, the first step in that connection is the product experience. Nobody is going to be chugging an immunity shot that tastes like cough syrup a year from now.”
Similarly, the manufacturer survey portion calls out the opportunity to develop formulations in multiple delivery formats. “For immunity in particular, new formats may sell new possibilities,” NBJ states. “That consumers see immunity as a product of lifestyle takes it away from the conventional-medicine, pill-first mentality and may make it more approachable in formats closer to food and beverage.”
Additional insights address supply chain challenges, formulation opportunities, and a special interview with Dr Jeffrey Bland and Dr Zach Bush on the paradigm shift in understanding immunity and human health. NBJ’s Immune Health Special Report includes 54 charts, data from custom consumer and manufacturer surveys, with raw data and powerpoint slides. Click here to learn more or to order.