Writing for Nutraceutical Business Review in July last year, we highlighted the importance of immune health to consumers in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region.1 Since then, of course the world has changed, reports Aanchal Kumar, Business Development Manager, SWA and MENAT, Kerry
In the nutrition industry, much of the discussion of the impact of the current health environment has focused on the “surge” or “spike” in interest in immunity.
However, as we noted last year, demand for immune health solutions isn’t a new phenomenon, particularly in APAC. Consumers’ attitudes haven’t changed overnight; they still have the same fundamental concerns, needs and preferences, and increasing demand is rooted in foundations that long precede the crisis.
In 2019 — before news of the pandemic broke — we conducted consumer research showing that demand for immune health products was high across the world, but particularly so in Asia. In China, for example, 50% of respondents said they had used an immune health product in the previous six months and a further 29% would consider doing so in the future.2
Indeed, accounting for 23% of all sales, immune health is the largest segment of China’s dietary supplement market. The spike in interest in immune health means we’re currently seeing very high levels of demand in our own immune health ingredient, Wellmune.
Although traditional supplements continue to dominate immune health markets, functional food and beverage products have emerged as an increasingly popular vehicle. In India, for example, consumers’ preferred method of obtaining immune health benefits post-pandemic is through everyday food and beverages.3
Reflecting this, research on Asia-Pacific markets in the 4-year period before the height of the pandemic found that immune health innovation was shifting away from healthcare to food and drink.
Between 2015–2016 and 2019–2020, the number of new cereal products with an immunity claim grew by 190%, and the number of new meal replacement products with an immunity claim grew by 185%.4 Although we see immense growth here, immunity boosting food and beverage products are still sometimes seen as a niche category and the opportunities they represent highlight an untapped whitespace in Asia-Pacific.
So what do consumers look for in immune health products? Unsurprisingly efficacy scores highly. For Indian consumers, according to Mintel, the biggest purchase influence factor is “how the product impacts my health and well-being” at 72%.
This tallies with our own proprietary consumer research, which reveals the importance of science-backed efficacy. Globally, 39% of the consumers we surveyed said seeing claims based on research or scientific data would make them more likely to buy a healthy lifestyle product, with this figure rising above half in countries such as Thailand.
Transparency was also a key factor: almost half (48%) of consumers in China said they wanted to see the benefits of a healthy lifestyle product explained on its packaging.
Kerry offers two leading ingredients with scientifically substantiated benefits for immune health. Wellmune, a natural food, beverage and supplement ingredient, is the only yeast beta glucan supported by more than a dozen published, peer-reviewed clinical studies.
It has regulatory approval in major markets, including novel food approval in China. Meanwhile, there is growing interest in the role of the microbiome in immune health, and an increasing awareness of the specific benefits of probiotics. GanedenBC30 is a leading spore-forming probiotic.
It is supported by more than 25 published papers and has been shown to support immune health and digestive health, and may help support better protein utilisation. To give just one example, a recent study on children demonstrated a beneficial effect on gastrointestinal and upper respiratory tract infection symptoms (URTI).5
Consumers demonstrate a growing preference for probiotics in functional foods and beverages compared with supplements. In Asia Pacific, we have seen innovative launches using GanedenBC30 in products including breakfast cereals, granola bars, healthy snacks and hot beverages such as tea and coffee.
What’s happening in Asia Pacific’s immune health markets is better understood as a process of evolution than revolution. Although the pandemic makes it more important than ever that companies such as ours act responsibly and demonstrate a commitment to safety, efficacy and scientific research, consumer requirements have not changed. They want trust, transparency and scientific substantiation.