“I personally believe the interest in immunity will be sustained,” said Markus Beck, Market Development Manager for food and beverages at DSM Nutritional Products. “Covid-19 and, in general, maintaining a healthy immune status has been in everybody´s mind for almost two years now. With Covid-19, people started realizing the importance of taking care of their health and the role nutrition plays in relation to their immune system.
“Next to immunity there are some other consumer concerns arising. For example, stress and anxiety, lack of energy and stress relief are good examples and consumers are clearly looking out for solutions as part of their diet.”
These trends co-exist with the long-term demand for natural foods, according to Beck. This means less processing, free-from positionings and ingredients with healthy halos such as extracts or botanicals in combination with established nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Plant-based products are also increasingly in demand.
“We believe in a next generation of immunity products which, while providing immunity benefits, also address other important consumer concerns and unmet needs such as relief to a stressful working day, eye protection or the choice of strengthening immunity defences through a vegan product.”
Manufacturers looking to tap into this space with a health and wellness-positioned functional product have a range of appealing active ingredients to choose from.
Within the vitamin space, vitamins C, E and A have so far been the most prominent and well-perceived ingredients for providing immunity benefits while, in recent years, a growing body of scientific evidence increasingly shows the immunity benefits of vitamin D. A sun-deprived lifestyle resulting in low vitamin D synthesis in the body is the major factor for insufficient vitamin D levels and consumer awareness on this is clearly increasing.
Many B vitamins such as B6, B9 – also known as folate – and B12 also provide immunity-related benefits and brands can leverage this. Additionally, emerging science suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may also support a healthy immune function in addition to their well-known benefits related to heart, brain and eye health.
According to Beck, the European health supplement and fortified food and beverage markets remains innovative, despite the presence of stringent regulations specifically in the EU. On the other hand, the clarity of EU regulations – for instance, regarding EFSA-endorsed health claims – can help build consumer trust as people feel confident that brands are able to back up their on-pack claims. However, major innovative step changes or radical ingredient innovations don´t come easily.
“Based on consumer understanding, the unlimited possibilities of combining already existing and approved ingredients, additives and extracts and making use of the scientifically-backed ‘quality seal’ of EFSA-approved health claims, products may convey strong messages and attract consumer attention,” Beck said.
Keeping nutrients active and bioavailable
In order to be able to deliver on their claims, however, brands must ensure that the functional ingredients used are still active and bioavailable when they reach the consumer.
Here, DSM’s technical expertise and know-how comes into play, said Elisabetta Nisoli, Manager General Nutrition Premixes at DSM Nutritional Products.
“[We] convert our active ingredients into end-use formulations that provide stability, that will guarantee the labelled nutritional value and that ensure homogeneous distribution in the final consumer product until the end of shelf life, and beyond. Only as long as the ingredient is still present in the final product can it also become bioavailable for the consumer.”
For instance, DSM usually provides fat soluble ingredients such as carotenoids, vitamins A, E, D and K and also omega-3s in the format of microencapsulated water dispersible powders as these can be easily applied and distributed in aqueous food systems.
“The small submicron ingredient droplets that are generated at the ingredient formulation stage will be retained in the food or beverage and will make sure that most of it will remain available and will be taken up by the consumer,” Nisoli explained. “Still, a very important factor for bioavailability of micronutrients is the diet of the consumer and, more specifically, the food matrix itself that contains the nutrients as well as everything else that is consumed at the same time,” he added.
Even once the final product is ready, external factors such as light, temperature and oxygen exposure continue to play a key role in nutrient stability.
“This is why the product packaging also needs to be chosen with care. In many cases, thorough and solid development work is needed such as shelf-life studies at the required storage and transportation conditions,” said Nisoli.
DSM can help its customers in that respect based on competent and experienced technical support that will be provided at its application innovation facilities.
“By that, we may shorten and facilitate the development process of our customers. In the EMEA region we are running application labs in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Egypt and South Africa,” added Nisoli.