Immune Health Report by IFF Health
Consumers can realise long term immune support through probiotics, botanicals and minerals with support from IFF Health.
Post-pandemic, a ‘new normal’ in nutrition for immune health
Sponsored by IFF Health
Over the next few months, it seems likely that—pandemic allowing—new consumer assumptions and expectations will emerge regarding immunity-strengthening nutrition. Dietary supplements combining probiotics, botanicals and minerals could play a significant part in shaping that world
Whether the view of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it is slowly fading into the background or simply entering a further stage of its development, it appears that consumer attitudes and behaviour across the globe are resolving themselves into a new state of equilibrium—or a ‘new normal’.
Given what we have all witnessed, it would be strange if that state did not include a sharpened awareness of the importance of nutrition and diet for a stronger immune system. Consumers have shifted their approach away from strictly addressing colds and flu, and are taking a more wellness-based, year-round preventive approach.
In fact, evidence suggests that, in Europe at least, awareness of routes to strengthening the immune system was already high before the arrival of the pandemic.
Consumer research from Mintel shows that in 2018,
up to 76% of German consumers aged 55-plus agreed that they took vitamins, minerals and supplements to strengthen their immune system.¹
for younger age groups were slightly lower, reducing to 57% in the 16-to-24 bracket.
Values for other European countries were not quite so high, but followed a similar age profile pattern.
Meanwhile, research from the same year showed that in China, 54% of consumers aged 55-to-74 said they were interested in foods with immune health-improving functional benefits.2
Whatever the pattern of per capita consumption, China has long been the largest single market for immunity-related products, from botanicals to probiotics. That is not about to change but, according to Euromonitor data from late last year3, the highest growth from larger markets for 2020 was expected to come from the US (over 30%) and Western Europe (22%)—although Europe still lags behind both the US and China in terms of market value.
Looking back over the past few months, Moran Saido Werner, global consumer insight manager of IFF Health, explained that immunity became the claim of the year as consumers sought out new ways to protect themselves against the coronavirus.
“Demand for vitamins, minerals and supplements is expected to continue to grow, as vaccine rollouts battle new surges and variants, and as health and wellness overall become more significant consumer priorities,” she explained.
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1. Lightspeed/Mintel, quoted in Patent Insight, April 2020.
2. Facts&Factors/Mintel, quoted in Patent Insight, April 2020.
3. Euromonitor, Consumer Health, Immune Support during Coronavirus, Oct. 2020
4. Sloan, 2021, FMCG Gurus’ February 2021, IRI Survey Collected 2021
Good bacteria gets better
Across their different health benefits, probiotics are, of course, one of the success stories of the dietary supplements market, and that success is reflected in current sales data. And that success is expected to continue as Euromonitor forecasts a global compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.6% between 2021 and 2026, rather neatly 1.5 times the CAGR of supplements in general.5
Timothy Lawlor, global market insight lead of IFF Health, picked up on this point.
“This trend is projected to continue as the market moves past the pandemic-driven baseline reset that is unfolding during 2021.”
Precisely where and when this baseline will settle is one of the puzzles of the current period. How consumers view the near and further-off future is changing by the day, given that many of the insecurities and uncertainties triggered at the beginning of the pandemic have never really disappeared.
For instance, research conducted in mid-May 2020 with consumers in the US, China and Italy6 found 15% of US respondents confirming usage of probiotic supplements six months prior to the study date. That figure rose to 25% at the time of the research, and then was projected to drop slightly to 22% three-to-six months into the future. The figures for China were more pronounced, showing a 23% usage rate climbing to 48%, before dropping back to the same 23% level.
However, in May 2020, the arc of the pandemic was widely anticipated to be a relatively short one, and the impacts of the virus were not fully understood. So, it would be reasonable to expect that usage levels have in fact stayed significantly higher than the six-month drop-off rate predicted, depending on consumer sentiment in each individual market.
Unlike China and the US, for example, consumer marketing in the European Union is not permitted to attribute any health benefits to probiotics—including around immunity. Nonetheless, overall awareness of probiotic and ‘good’ bacteria in general, and of their immunity benefits in particular, appears to be stronger than ever. Figures for earlier this year suggest that around a quarter of European consumers associate probiotic benefits with immunity, and 30% have been taking probiotics to support resistance to COVID-19.
Where claims could be made, global research from Mintel shows that, in the five years to February 2020,
66% of probiotic supplements made a digestive health claim, while the proportion making an immune health claim was 39%.⁸
All of this suggests that promoting the immunity benefits of probiotics is a significant opportunity within Europe and certainly beyond.
Probiotics are one of the most studied sets of ingredients in relation to immune health, particularly where there is a focus on upper respiratory tract infections. Given the multiple levels on which probiotics operate, from digestive health to women’s health – as well as immunity – some have even suggested that health professionals should set a Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for microbes, just as is done for other key nutrients9. This supplementation of safe and beneficial microbes would help to counteract the lack of them in our general diet.
5. Euromonitor, Consumer Health, Sept 2021 edition
6. Natural Marketing Institute, carried out with 3,000 consumers across the three markets.
7. Multi-sponsor surveys in France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Russia, Poland and the UK, reported in New Nutrition Business.
8. Mintel GNPD 2020.
9. Hill, 2018, The Biochemist.
Probiotics such as IFF’s HOWARU® family of products already demonstrate the benefit of premium ingredients targeting specific life stages and sets of needs. They also resonate with consumers increasingly aware that each strain of bacteria has a different range of positive effects.
Arguably, the very success of immune support as a category within dietary supplements and the fact that such support is becoming a staple for many more health-conscious consumers means that differentiation is more important than ever. According to global health category leader of IFF Health Maider Gutierrez, one solution can be to combine the immune support of probiotics with other added health benefits.
Even for those who have not suffered worse consequences, the pandemic will have turned routines upside down and raised levels of stress and anxiety, making this kind of pairing of probiotics with botanicals and minerals even more relevant when it comes to helping in these areas.
Euromonitor data suggests stress and anxiety rank as the second most common area of health concern after eyesight-related issues, affecting just under 30% of respondents in its 2020 global survey.10
Sleep problems follow close behind in fourth position. These are just two areas where the link with immune health is already strong and becoming stronger, with branded adaptogens, for instance, starting to integrate immunity messaging into their labelling.
Gutierrez noted that, when searching the shelves for a probiotic product, consumers are more likely to choose a bottle featuring a trending botanical on the label.11
“Some examples of potential combinations are probiotics like HOWARU® Protect or Echinacea with botanicals for sleep support like valerian or passion flower extract,” she said.
It is interesting that, according to Mintel:
40% of global patent inventions (2019-2020) targeting immunity-enhancement were based on botanicals, while 35% were based on probiotics.
Commercial marketing manager of IFF Health Vanessa Azevedo pointed out the “clean and green” associations and “healthier halo” that consumers look for in botanicals, as a complement to probiotics.
Meanwhile, the impetus behind personalization will continue in all parts of health and wellness, not least in the area of immune support. This trend goes hand-in-hand with a sustained emphasis on sustained wellness rather than cure.
“As many as 89% of US consumers believe that healthcare should focus on preventative care,” Werner reported.12 “Consumers already use smart devices, primarily for preventative health purposes, such as tracking heart rate, and the future will see an increased merging of this behaviour with nutrition goals.”
Where the use of specific probiotics is backed up by careful selection and research, this already allows a segmented approach to the market. Combining these targeted strains with additional nutrients takes
‘immunity-plus’ supplements even further along the road to personalized nutrition.
“The need for particular minerals and vitamins depends on age group and gender,” Gutierrez explained. “For example, since iron fortification is especially important for children and women, the combinations of the microencapsulated iron AB-Fortis® with HOWARU® Protect Kids or HOWARU® Protect Prenatal+ could help to target these demographics. Looking at older age groups, HOWARU® Protect 55+ could be combined with soy isoflavones for women or Go-Less® Men for men.”
10. Euromonitor International Health and Nutrition Survey 2020.
11. Nutrition Business Journal, April 2021.
12. Mintel, 2021.
Mobilising plants and minerals
Of course, strengthened immunity is not just about probiotics, as the example of AB-Fortis® underlines. Whether combined with probiotics or co-formulated in other ways, the microencapsulation of this iron supplement means there are no flavour or oxidation problems, and less risk of an upset stomach. Crucially, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) allows claims to be made about ‘normal function of the immune system’ in relation to iron, product manager at IFF Health Christiaan Veltink stated. “At the same time, AB-Fortis® offers high bio-availability,” he added.
As the Mintel figures on patents demonstrate, alongside probiotics, increasing amounts of research are being directed towards the most promising types of botanicals in relation to immunity. Tracking launches over a five-year period, the same research organization found that
33% of all global vitamin and supplement launches with immune health claims contained some sort of herbal substance.¹³
In some cases, these substances are plant-derived sources of essential micronutrients, such as vitamin C. This is true, for example, of acerola which, according to Mintel’s five-year data, is present in 4% of global vitamin and supplement launches, just behind turmeric (5%), and ahead of botanicals such as echinacea (see sidebar) and ginseng (both 3%).
Once again, quality and enhanced processing can make a huge amount of difference when it comes to the effective action of these ingredients. For example, IFF’s POWDERPURE process ensures that its acerola contains a much higher dose of vitamin C, gram for gram, than other sources.
Within turmeric, curcumin is the dynamo driving benefits including immune health. Here, too, in its Curcugen™ product, IFF has focused on quality within the most critical bioactive part of the plant. Evidence suggests that ‘immune balance’ as opposed to simply a strong immune response (or, naturally, weak immunity) is the most desirable nutritional outcome, and that active ingredients such as curcumin can play an essential role here.
Even though the focus here is on a broad resetting of baseline immunity and the nutrition to support this, it is worth noting that some of these botanicals do have a specific relevance to
For example, curcumin has been identified as a potential target in the adjuvant treatment of the virus. Elsewhere, trials have indicated that broccoli ingredients containing glucoraphanin, the precursor of sulforaphane as its active ingredient, helped COVID-19 symptoms in patients and, in vitro, showed activity against coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2. IFF promotes and sells BroccoRaphanin®, a broccoli raffinate standardized in glucoraphanin.
Do you intend to launch new products for Immune support containing probiotics in combination with botanical ingredients?
13. Mintel GNPD, launches tracked May 2016-April 2021.
Waking up from format fatigue
Whatever claims nutrition and supplement brands are able to make about their products, the precise formulation and combination of primary ingredients is only one of the ways in which they can be made to stand out in a crowded marketplace. Another feature of the landscape emerging out of the coronavirus pandemic is likely to be a much greater amount of development work being put into delivery formats.
Jérôme Darribeau, global manager for custom solutions for IFF Health, said the company had years of experience of working with formats other than capsules. “A growing number of consumers are expecting alternatives to capsules when looking at their immune health supplementation,” he said. “Our current portfolio includes sachets, sticks, chewable tablets and even oil drops, focusing more on infants.” R&D teams had also seen success with more food-like applications such as chocolate and juices, he added.
“We keep working on new ways to deliver active ingredients to consumers via innovative vehicles, that can be orientated towards either food or dietary supplements,” said Darribeau. “Stay tuned to discover our future launches.”
There is an element of ‘pill fatigue’ in all of this. But there is also a sense that consumers increasingly see immune system benefits becoming much more of a basic nutritional target—if not an expectation.
So, for example, even before the pandemic, 35% of US consumers polled in July 2019 said they would be motivated to buy a nutrition or meal-replacement drink by products supporting immune health.14
Also, from the US comes an example of a brand marketing shots combining turmeric with probiotics.15 In other words, being able to differentiate product delivery is, in many areas, becoming just as important to brands as being able to differentiate active compounds and their modes of operation.
It would be naïve to think that the much keener awareness of immunity – the risks to it, as well as routes to reinforcing it – shared by many of today’s consumers is purely about dietary supplementation. Werner emphasized the many ways in which consumers were re-establishing control over their own health. “Data shows that these recent healthy lifestyle changes, regarding nutrition, exercise, stress management and sleep, which all affect immunity directly or indirectly, may just be here to stay.”
But within this new consumer consciousness around immune health, dietary supplements combining probiotics, key botanicals and minerals look set to play a starring role.
14. Lightspeed/Mintel, quoted in Patent Insight, April 2020.
15. Included in Mintel’s Patent Insight, April 2020.
Added plant power
While the focus for many consumers is shifting to the immune system’s baseline strength, there is still a place for botanicals with a solid track record in providing an additional boost, and here, too, quality is key.
Echinacea has long been applied to supporting healthy immune function in adults and the elderly, and Pelargonium has found traditional use in providing positive effects for coughs and colds. Ginseng has been relied on to reinforce the body’s natural defenses, while plants such as ivy leaf and thyme have often been valued as expectorants.
Product manager of IFF Health Maria Dolores Garcia explained the importance of how these ingredients are processed. “IFF manufactures these botanical extracts in its European facilities, guaranteeing food safety and active function,” she said.
As examples, she highlighted the company’s Echinacea EFLA 894, cold-pressed juice from Echinacea purpurea, which offers natural support for immune system function, and its Pelargonium EFLA 956, extracted from Pelargonium sidoides roots showing immune modulatory properties.