The Continuous Rise of Immune Health

Immunity has been a top priority throughout the past year and a half, and because of this, the pandemic has had a positive impact on the market. Consumers have increasingly become more aware of the importance of immune health and are beginning to understand it is not just a seasonal concern, but a daily one. Studies have shown that COVID-19 has caused a rise in demand for products that can help boost immune health. According to Mintel, with consumers becoming ever more conscious of the need to maintain their immune health, the increased spending in the category is expected to last for some time to come.  

Fears of possible additional outbreaks and new SARS-CoV-2 variants have influenced a need for preparedness. FMCG Gurus found that nearly eight in ten (77%) consumers now say they will make greater attempts to stay healthier in the future. Not only is there a need to self-prepare and maintain one’s immune health, but also present is the need families have to focus on immune health for all. As communities begin to transition their children to in-person classroom learning, they are not only thinking of how they will protect themselves, but how they will also protect their children. Interest in consumer health is not only individually focused, but it also encompasses the family.  

Baby Boomers are becoming more aware of their health, resulting in a forever young ethos being replaced with concerns about their own mortality. Mortality rates have been higher among senior citizens when it comes to COVID-19, but this isn’t to say that consumers in their 30s and 40s are not impacted by the virus. Generation X has moved to being proactive towards their health and adopting a prevention over cure approach to disease and illness. Among both demographic groups, the pandemic has driven demand for functional food, drinks, and supplements that contain ingredients with health boosting benefits. According to the Innova Consumer Survey 2020, six out of ten global consumers are increasingly looking for food and beverage products that support their immune health, with one in three saying that concerns about immune health increased in 2020 over 2019. 

Immune System Support 

Immunity-boosting ingredients will play a significant role in the coming year. Research and interest in the role of the microbiome and personalized nutrition as ways to strengthen immunity will accelerate. Consumers are demanding products to be customized for their lifestyles, interests, and values. Personalization, as it pertains to immune health, will need to be met through all product categories across all ages. Research will continue to play a vital role in validating a functional ingredient’s benefits and ultimately help consumers identify products that will align with their health and wellness goals.  

There is also a better understanding of the relationship between a healthy digestive system and a healthy immune system. The research on prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics continues to expand as more and more information is uncovered about the positive functions that the human microbiome provides in supporting and maintaining human health. There are very few categories that have expanded and diversified to the extent that the –biotics segment has. This expansion, although not without its own challenges, provides exciting opportunities for the introduction of new ingredients that will safely and effectively provide tremendous benefits that can potentially be customized to meet specific needs in the end-consumer.  

Several traditional ingredients have risen to the forefront because of their safe history and potentially providing additional support to the immune system. Like vitamin C and zinc, vitamin D, vitamin A, and selenium have become important players in the industry. According to SPINS data, U.S. sales in the Natural, Enhanced and Conventional Multi Outlet channels for dietary supplements marketed for immune health jumped 31.1% to about $199.1 million since January 24, 2020.  

Stress is high among consumers, with the ongoing pandemic, politics, the economy, and personal events. Many are looking for ways to tend to their mental wellbeing and limit stress as much as possible. Expect to see ingredients like B-complex vitamins, melatonin, cannabidiol (CBD), chamomile, and magnesium become more popular as they are linked to better sleep and lowering levels of stress and anxiety.  

Although many ingredients are currently receiving attention for their potential to boost immunity, not all ingredients have the same level of science supporting their efficacy. Scientific research is key to establishing credibility with consumers. As a result, knowledgeable consumers will continue to look for immune health ingredients backed by science.  

Beyond the Human Genome  

Since the human genome was mapped, there have been numerous large-scale research programs focused on examining how the microbiome differs between people. Latest DNA sequencing efforts have steadily been decreasing in cost, which has allowed companies to offer microbial analyses at much lower prices to healthcare providers and consumers alike. The human microbiome is truly personalized and unique and consumers want personalization when it comes to knowing their own personal gut health. This genomic revolution that enabled 23andMe to provide genomic testing to the public is now making its way to the world of microbiome as more and more companies are providing similar offerings focused on the gut microbiome to consumers. Collectively, society has moved on from “one size fits all” products toward the creation of products specifically tailored to an individual’s needs and requirements.  

The link is also increasingly being made between probiotics, prebiotics, postbiotics, and immune support. The human microbiome consisting of the trillions of bacteria that reside in our GI tracts, on our skin and in our oral cavity, is a source of valuable insight into our health and vulnerability to developing certain disease conditions. As a result, the market for supplemental bacteria in the form of probiotics has continued to grow. According to the Global Probiotics Market Report from MarketWatch.com, the probiotics market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 6.7% from 2020 to 2027 to reach $76.7 billion by 2027. 

Consumer awareness of the benefits of probiotics is still gaining traction, with its relationship to gut health and a strong immune system increasingly being made clear. Most probiotics on the market are designed to work in the gut. They are designed to support our body’s own microbiome and fill in the gaps where deficiencies have developed. What is now been made known is that the immune benefits don’t begin in the gut, but in the oral cavity. The oral cavity is home to as many different species of bacteria, if not more, than the gut; and according to the study on “Beneficial microbes for the oral cavity,” these bacteria can form an extremely strong barrier against invaders, influencing the health, not only of the teeth and gums, but extending in the throat and ear canals. Probiotics derived from indigenous strains, such as Streptococcus salivarius, which can produce compounds called Bacteriocin-Like-Inhibitory-Substances (BLIS), may help provide a front-line protection against unfavorable strains entering the body through the mouth and nose.  

The prebiotics market revenue is projected to cross USD 9.5 billion by 2027, according to new research report by Global Market Insights Inc. Growing consumer awareness regarding the health benefits offered by prebiotics coupled with increasing instances of digestive disorders among the global population is expected to raise product demand. Consumers are seeking out fiber and nutrient-rich food products for their health benefits impacting categories such as cardiovascular health, digestive health, and weight.  

A pronounced shift is taking place in microbiome science. Until recently, a large portion of scientific research was devoted to isolating, identifying, and naming different species of bacteria. Scientists are now able to dig deeper into the –biotics and study various strains and their individual health benefits. As this year has shown, postbiotics appear to be the trend in the industry. Consumers are seeking out convenient options to help support their digestive health which require little change to their lifestyle and habits.  

Nena Dockery, Scientific and Regulatory Manager at Stratum Nutrition, said, “The importance of the microbiome has expanded to include areas of the body outside the gastrointestinal tract. Notably, the oral cavity has become a focus of study within the last decade or so, resulting in the development of probiotics designed to work in the mouth and regions of the upper respiratory tract. We now recognize that the oral cavity is home to some 700 species of bacteria, and maintaining a healthy environment of bacterial species in the mouth is crucial to overall health. In addition to probiotics designed to support dental health, oral cavity probiotics can also be extremely beneficial to immune health, particularly in the upper respiratory tract. Ideally these probiotics are derived from species that are indigenous to the human oral cavity.  Most function predominantly through competitive inhibition, crowding out detrimental species that enter the body through the nose and mouth. Others produce protective substances, called bacteriocin-like inhibitory substances (BLIS) that target unfavorable strains and limit their entry into the body. 

Streptococcus salivarius is one of the most common species of bacteria in the oral cavity of healthy individuals and several strains do produce favorable BLIS. There is extensive background research establishing the safety and efficacy of these strains.  One particularly beneficial S. salivarius strain is the K12 strain. This is a rare human-derived strain that is particularly beneficial in inhibiting such species as S. pyogenes and Moraxella catarrhalis. The breadth of human studies in young children make it a particularly desirable probiotic for supporting immune health in the very young.  

As the study of the human microbiome expands along with our knowledge of the myriad of ways in which it impacts our overall health, so will the desire for appropriate probiotics to support our own body’s microbiota.”  

Conclusion 

The immune health category changed dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. The quick rise in demand for immune health products surged and placed a strain on the supply chain last year. Companies were forced to adapt and to do so at rapid speed. Many companies have gained ground with this new normal as more consumers are aware of immune health than ever before in history. Where there is demand, there is opportunity.  

Immune health had traditionally been a seasonal market, but as we’ve seen since the beginning of 2020, the pandemic drove home the importance of immune support year-round. According to market research firm Innova Market Insights, supplement launches with immune-health claims in 2020 grew 4% globally compared to the previous year and accounted for nearly half of all product launches. Sports nutrition launches with immune-health claims grew 2%, making up 11% of all product launches with immune-health claims. 

COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on all of us. Many of the consumer behaviors that developed during the pandemic have become ingrained into their lifestyle. It would be safe to say that immune health will continue to remain top of the mind for consumers in the future. The demand for immune health products will not likely slow down. It is hard to imagine the industry seeing this category mirror what it did pre-COVID.