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Where next for immunity foods and beverages?

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Covid-19 has led to heightened interest in the role of a good diet for immune support, and consumers increasingly have sought foods and drinks that help reinforce their natural defences. But as pandemic fatigue sets in, is there still room for innovation, or have we reached ‘peak immunity’?

Innova Market Insights named ‘In Tune with Immune’ as one of its top ten trends in 2021, and the market researcher predicts that immune support will continue to be important in the year ahead. This year, it has put gut health in the spotlight, with ‘Gut Glory’ among its 2022 trends, as nearly two in three global consumers say gut health is key to their holistic wellbeing, including for immunity, as well as sleep, energy and mood. Previous research from Innova has found 40% of consumers believe probiotics contribute to a strong immune system.

Jamie Rice, Director of Global Data and Insights at Food Trending also noted the link between immune health and broader health and wellbeing.

“[Consumers] are looking to reduce stress and enhance their mental wellbeing in times of extreme crisis, so this has thrown up a huge opportunity around the health and immunity space,” he said at the recent Fi Europe hybrid event.

New opportunities, new formats

Rice suggested the opportunity already existed pre-pandemic for products offering immune support, but Covid-19 accelerated it, due to consumer fear over the effects of the virus, and to provide protection against the virus for both themselves and their loved ones. He said products claiming to support immunity meanwhile had expanded into a wide range of formats, including beverage shots and powders, as well as nuts, chocolate for children, and even tuna and cookie dough.

“There are a lot of companies getting in on the act,” he said. “Has this trend got longevity, or have we already reached peak immunity?”

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Growth categories

Although most consumer spending on food is in meat, fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy and baked goods, these are not necessarily the categories with the biggest potential for growth. Instead, soft drinks, confectionery, hot beverages, meat products and snacks are faster growing, with more added value.

“These are the categories that are opportunities for anyone selling food and ingredients,” Rice said.

He added that when it comes to health ingredients, immunity ingredients are growing at a rate of 8% year on year as they expand into ever more categories, and they now account for 25% of all health ingredients sold into the food industry.

Holistic health

“Immunity is now part of a holistic approach for consumers looking to improve their health,” he said. “Consumers are already aware that they need to improve their sleep patterns, reduce stress and improve diet and so immunity is just part of that overall picture.”

He said that new products in the space must to appeal to that holistic approach to immunity, and focus on natural ingredients associated with immune support, such as turmeric, ginger or citrus. Other ingredients on the horizon include ashwagandha, holy basil and maca root, and Rice claims products are likely to expand out into these and other immunity-related botanicals as consumer awareness and knowledge increases.

“Any new immunity product has to be clearly targeted,” he said, suggesting it could be portable for those returning to the office, convenient, or targeted at usage occasions, such as travel or protecting the family at home.

He added, “I think it’s clear from the data that immunity ingredients are here to stay as we start to navigate our way out of a global pandemic.”
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