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What’s next for immune health ingredients in a post-pandemic world? [Interview]

Article-What’s next for immune health ingredients in a post-pandemic world? [Interview]

The global COVID-19 pandemic has seen an explosion in demand for healthy ingredients that support immunity. But with vaccine programmes underway in many countries and the end of the pandemic – hopefully – in sight, does this trend have longevity?

Jamie Rice is director of global data and insights at Food Trending, a UK market research consultancy that has been tracking and predicting food and beverage trends for over 30 years.

The global market for health ingredients has grown significantly from $13.2 billion in 2015 to be worth $17.8 billion in 2020, and Rice is confident that, in the short to medium term, demand for on-trend immunity ingredients is not going away.

The fact that countries are beginning to open up and people can finally think about travelling, holidays, and simply seeing friends and family on a regular basis, means that protecting immune health will still be a priority, Rice told Fi Global Insights.

Immunity is part of the post-pandemic coping process

“When we’re going to travel and meet people, we will want reassurance of immunity and wellness. It’s going to evolve over next 12 months but we won’t suddenly go back to our old ways straightaway. Immunity is one of those trends that, over the next two to three years, is [..] going to be at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

“Don’t forget that different countries are performing at different levels and no-one thinks that in one year we will be free from coronavirus,” Rice said. “Immunity will be a part of how consumers cope post-pandemic […] with the virus still in circulation.”

Tapping into the trend

Vitamins, turmeric, ginger, and zinc have become the most sought-after ingredients in the past 12 months, according to Food Trending data, driven by consumer familiarity with these ingredients and their associations with immune health well-established in people’s minds. Use of these ingredients in packaged food and drink products will continue in a number of categories, Rice said.


“Growth isn’t just coming from traditional beverages with added vitamins or minerals, we’ve seen these ingredients go into chocolate, snacks, hot beverages. We’ve seen the traditional category where it’s being used a lot anyway and it’s exploded out into others, which is really interesting.”

With the pandemic far from over, ingredients that are still relatively niche today, such as holy basil, maca root and ashwagandha, will gain traction among mainstream consumers seeking out immune health benefits.

“Consumers aren’t totally aware of these but I think they will come into play more in the not-too-distant future,” Rice said.

Brands should also be aware of potential opportunities for healthy-positioned products tied to their consumption moments.

People around the world are going to find themselves once again in busy bars, crowded trains and packed gyms, which could be potentially anxiety-inducing after over 12 months of social distancing. There could be opportunities for one-time-consumption products that contain ingredients to promote immunity or mental wellbeing and that are tailored to these specific contexts, such as an energy bar with ashwagandha or a calming ready-to-drink tea with turmeric and ginger.

Global consumers, regional preferences

Jamie-Rice.jpgFood Trending’s data has revealed interesting regional preferences in terms of the kind of ingredients consumers are seeking to benefit their immune health, Rice said.

In the Middle East, traditional and natural herbal remedies were highly sought after while in Europe, ingredients that support the immune system by promoting a healthy gut microbiome grew in popularity. In Latin America, Food Trending noted a spike in citrus ingredients, particularly in beverages, while in North America, food and drink products offering multifunctional benefits for holistic health gained traction.

“In the US, we’ve seen snacks and confectionery products that have ingredients for mindfulness, good gut health and added minerals – one product that does a number of things,” Rice said.

One example of a functional chocolate brand making an immunity claim is Gold Organics. Its ‘Immune Shroom’ bar contains organic reishi, chaga, and cordyceps powder, all adaptogenic mushrooms that can help “fight off invaders”, according to the brand.

As with any food product making a functional health claim, brands need to be careful that the ingredient and benefit makes sense in terms of the category and target consumer.

“You can’t just stick zinc into a McDonalds – and of course most companies don’t do that – but where there is a strategic [alignment] with the health positioning and the right sort of category and consumer, there is an opportunity,” Rice said.

In any case, brands wishing to tap into the current trend for immune health find themselves at an exciting and unprecedented time, according to the market analyst.

“Immunity is the biggest thing at the moment globally, we’ve never had anything like this – the coronavirus pandemic – in the food industry. From the data we have seen and analysed, there has not been one global event that has affected the food industry so much in the past 30 years. It has shaken up everything consumers buy, and immunity ingredients are just one part of it. This year and 2022 will be the settling-down phase, seeing what changes stick and what falls by the wayside.”