Several companies in the nutrition industry have commented on the immune health segment and the spotlight it’s experienced in the past year owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. AKP Public Relations spoke to companies including Euromed, Kaneka and Gelita, to learn how they are adapting to the developing market and where they expect it to move next.
The market today
Andrea Zangara, Head of Scientific Communications and Marketing for Euromed, said: “Until 2020, the immune health market was very much seasonally dependent, with sales peaks during autumn and winter – the classic time for colds and flu. But the coronavirus pandemic means people around the world are changing the way they view their health. Immunity is at the forefront of public consciousness like never before, and immune-supporting products are now booming all year round.” He also commented on the rising awareness of heart health, and its role in reducing viral morbidity.
Consumers are reflecting on their wellbeing, taking more exercise and trying to live healthier lives. They are also searching for solutions to help improve their overall health
Filip Van Hulle, Senior Manager at Kaneka Pharma Europe, echoed the assertion that the pandemic has brought immune health to the forefront of consumer consciousness, independent of the time of year.
“Consumers are reflecting on their wellbeing, taking more exercise and trying to live healthier lives. They are also searching for solutions to help improve their overall health. As a result, there is increasing interest in nutritional strategies that support several areas simultaneously, such as more energy, improved endurance, a healthy heart, strong immune system and better mental wellbeing, particularly during these challenging times,” he said.
Oliver Wolf, Head of B2B Marketing for Gelita, suggested the pandemic has significantly accelerated a pre-existing trend, and that manufacturers are now having to work to meet this dramatic upsurge in demand.
“Regarding immune health,” Wolf said, “A trend could already be observed in the years prior to 2020. However, the corona pandemic has sparked even stronger market growth. Now, more than ever, people want to actively support their immune health, having become much more aware of its importance. This is fuelling sales of dietary supplements that promise beneficial effects on the immune system. It’s also why more and more manufacturers are trying to develop new product concepts to launch in this thriving market.”
Nutriswiss CEO, Michel Burla, explained that while demand for immunity boosting ingredients and supplements has increased, manufacturers are attempting to service that demand in multifarious ways.
“The market has responded to the pandemic but is still fragmented. The immune health segment includes numerous supplements, such as vitamins, minerals, plant extracts, probiotics, amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids, and dosage forms including capsules, tablets, sticks and liquids or solutions. Depending on the source information, the global market is estimated to be worth around $20 bn with growth in the high single digits.”
The companies also spoke about potential roadblocks and issues the immune health market may face in the future.
Head of Marketing for GoodMills Innovation, Jutta Schock, suggested a part of the challenge is being agile enough to take advantage of the rapid shift in market conditions. “The pandemic has caused the demand for immune strengthening solutions to seemingly grow day by day. It is therefore up to the industry to react quickly and commercialise efficiently.”
She pointed out, however, that some companies would have an easier time than others pivoting their offerings towards evolving consumer trends.
“We don't have to reinvent the wheel,” she said of GoodMills. “We have always worked on health-promoting ingredients. With our range of dietary fibres and innovative whole grain solutions, we target the heart of a strong immune system: a healthy gut. Pursuing a value-added approach for our customers, we focus on converting sound science into innovative concepts and easy to implement solutions.”
Full traceability is a key tool of the industry to prevent adulteration and guarantee quality
Laura Ingenlath, Quality Manager at Taiyo pointed out the inevitable, unfortunate consequences of the immune health sector’s massive growth.
“For manufacturers, the supply chain is becoming even more important than before. Wherever a market delivers profits, counterfeiters are not far behind, and this is especially true for tea and tea extracts.”
Zangara likewise noted issues arising at the intersection of high demand and disrupted supply chains.
“This opens the door for counterfeit material to enter the supply chain,” he said, “Meaning adulteration has become an even more important concern than before the crisis. Full traceability is a key tool of the industry to prevent adulteration and guarantee quality. For this reason, suppliers should have an integrated supply chain in place, where each step – starting with the raw materials – is traceable and accountable.”
Ingenlath agreed with the need for transparency: “Taiyo has therefore developed an “Adulteration Free” campaign that ensures that our green tea extracts are 100% natural and free from adulteration.”
These challenges do come with opportunities for the companies capable of solving them, however. Kaneka’s Van Hulle said firms can help customers understand what products and ingredients are backed by science and most likely to genuinely support their immune system.
“The pandemic has also shown that consumers want to learn more about immune health and how best to support it. Brands can use this engagement to shape their products and communication in favour of science-backed solutions. They can create premium dietary supplements containing value-added specialty ingredients,” he said, adding: “Consumers are eager for products that combine a number of benefits in one package. Immune support definitely relies on more than one nutrient.”
Most products available in the field of immune health focus on vitamins and minerals, but in recent years, other ingredients have become increasingly important in this segment
Burla said there is also potential for products which consumers previously saw as specialised and niche to develop more general appeal for their immune health benefits.
“Before the pandemic, omega-3 was in demand as an ingredient with a recognised effect on the immune system, especially in infant formulas; now, there is growing demand for similarly enriched functional foods for adults.”
Beyond the customer base itself, Wolf suggested the range of ingredients and products available in the market segment is increasing too.
“Most products available in the field of immune health focus on vitamins and minerals,” he pointed out. “But in recent years, other ingredients have become increasingly important in this segment – one being collagen. While this protein has long been used in the area of joint health and beauty-from-within products, its importance in the context of immune health is now also being recognised, and a more “holistic” approach to this topic has been developed.”