Consumer Attitudes Toward Immunity
There has been an uptick in interest in immune system supplements in the Asia Pacific region in the wake of COVID-19, as well as in foods that boost the immune system. FMCG Gurus1 reports that 55% of ASPAC have become more conscious about their immunity because of COVID-19.
When consumers were asked to self-assess their immune health prior to COVID-192, 57% reported their immunity as good or very good. However, 48% also indicated that they had made changes in the last year to improve their immunity. Many of them did not indicate they had an immune issue but were trying to be proactive about their health.
Immune System Vitamins and Minerals
According to Mintel3, monthly launches of food, beverages and supplements with an immune system support doubled between December 2019 and May 2020 — from 52 products to 104. The top vitamins for immune system support used in these foods, beverages and supplements were vitamin C, folic acid, vitamin D and B2. The top 10 micronutrients included in new immune-boosting products in the past six months were:
- Vitamin C (28%)
- Folic acid (18%)
- Vitamin D3 (17%)
- Vitamin B2 (16%)
- Minerals including iron & zinc (14%)
- Biotin (13%)
- Vitamin A (13%)
- Vitamin B3 (13%)
- Vitamin E (12%)
- Vitamin B12 (12%)
While numerous ingredients are showing up in products that boost the immune system, FMCG Gurus2 asked Chinese consumers which ingredients they associate with helping boost immune health. They found that vitamin C was the ingredient most associated with improving the immune system, followed by protein, omega 3 and omega 6 fish oils, and probiotics.
Botanicals and Foods to Boost the Immune System
Some consumer segments are drawn more to immune system vitamins and minerals, while others tend to look to foods and botanicals for immunity support. These consumers want to know how to boost the immune system naturally, but they still expect ingredients with well-researched, evidence-based benefits (e.g., ginger, camu camu, elderberry and certain mushrooms).
Mintel4 identified a number of botanical ingredients that are being used more frequently in new products making immunity claims. From 2014 to 2019, increased usage rates by functional food and supplement manufacturers were noted for:
- Green tea
- Korean ginseng extract
- Echinacea extract
- Reishi mushroom
Factors that Affect Immunity
During cold and flu season, consumers may want to know how to boost the immune system quickly to protect themselves and their families. However, it’s important to understand that the risk factors are not the same for everyone. The top factors affecting immunity are:
- Poor diet
- Physical inactivity
- Chronic stress
- Inadequate sleep
While consuming foods, botanicals, minerals or vitamins for immune system support can provide a much-needed boost for those with poor diet or exercise habits, as well as those under stress or short on sleep, correcting those underlying causes should always be the long-term goal. Age, however, is a factor affecting immunity that’s beyond our control.
Understanding Immunity at Different Life Stages
Those at the earliest and latest life stages are the most in need of immune support. Newborn babies don’t yet have fully developed immune systems, while seniors experience a decrease in white blood cell count and function that weakens certain aspects of the immune system.
Although human breast milk is recommended for optimum immune support in babies, infant formulas containing essential vitamins, minerals and prebiotic human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) are an effective alternative. About 2 in 3 Chinese parents indicate that they are concerned with low immunity when feeding their children who are younger than 3 years. 4
For children (infant through teen), regular exposure to antigens begins to build up the immune system over time through the development of antibodies. Nonetheless, it’s important to reduce the severity of infections by ensuring that children have sufficient reserves of all essential nutrients. A majority of Chinese parents, 59%, would want to purchase food and beverages that can improve their child’s immunity. 4 A nutritious diet, combined with a chewable multivitamin-mineral supplement, is often considered an ideal combination.
After the transition to adulthood, hectic lifestyles can mean an increase in the likelihood of the other risk factors; i.e., stress, poor eating habits, and a lack of exercise and sleep. As adults work to manage these lifestyle factors, they may also reach for a variety of immune-boosting products for support. According to Mintel4, 54% of Chinese consumers older than 55 are interested in foods that could improve the immune system. These include functional foods and beverages (especially with antioxidants or botanicals), supplements with immune support claims and traditional multivitamin-mineral supplements.
Key Opportunities for Brands
Focusing on the most vulnerable groups is a way for manufacturers to make the biggest impact on consumers’ health. While immune system support is particularly beneficial to seniors and babies, other groups that require attention are pregnant and nursing women and people with compromised immune systems. Brands targeting these vulnerable populations should use focused messaging to reach their intended consumers.
Immune Support for a Healthier World
It’s never been more important for consumers to boost their immune health with antioxidants and beneficial minerals. From our dairy-based protein Provon CFM to bioactive rich proteins and ingredients to custom premixes, Glanbia Nutritionals has the resources to help you formulate products that will help support your consumers’ health and well-being.