Immunity boosting supplements: Why products for older adults have huge ‘untapped potential’ in APAC

By Cheryl Tay

- Last updated on GMT

Healthy ageing is becoming a major concern across Asia. ©iStock
Healthy ageing is becoming a major concern across Asia. ©iStock

Related tags Asia pacific Immune system

Immunity-boosting health products for older adults have massive ‘untapped potential’ in Asia, and especially in China, with less than 1% of new launches in the past five years being specifically created for the over 55s.

Research from market intelligence agency Mintel found that consumers in China and the rest of Asia were increasingly concerned about suffering from diseases later in life.

Michelle Teodoro, global food science and nutrition analyst at Mintel, said Asia Pacific accounted for 38% of the world’s food, drink, and healthcare products that carried an ‘immune system (functional)’ claim during the past five years.

However, while 22% of immunity-enhancing products launched in Asia Pacific at the time were meant for babies and toddlers (up to four years old), and 13% for children aged five to 12, less than 1% were made for adults above 55 years of age.

Unfulfilled needs

An ageing population means conditions such as dementia, pneumonia, and cardiovascular diseases are more common, leading to a greater prevalence of weaker immune systems and necessitating immunity-boosting health products tailored for the elderly.

Teodoro said: “Manufacturers that produce immunity food, drink, and healthcare products could capitalise on Asia Pacific as a potential market, especially in targeting seniors. The population in Asia Pacific is ageing faster than (in) any part of the world, and (it) is reportedly home to more than half of the world’s senior population. In fact, the number of seniors in Asia Pacific is also predicted to grow significantly over the next decade.”

Indeed, immunity is among the most common health issues Chinese people between 55 and 74 face. According to Mintel’s Marketing to Over-55s China 2017​ report, 40% of Chinese seniors aged 55 to 74 know their immunity is poor, but only 6% with weak immunity are taking health supplements for it, with 21% “not taking any measures to improve their low immunity levels”​.

Content and consumption

The growing ageing population in countries like China call for novel health and nutrition solutions. For instance, many elderly people may have trouble chewing and swallowing, and as such, “there is an opportunity for immunity product manufacturers to cater to seniors with products that have senior-friendly textures; easy to chew and swallow”​.

Nutritional needs also change with age. Vitamin C and phenolic compounds are two of the best nutrients for the immune system, and can be found in botanicals and herbals such as ginseng, collagen and probiotics, which tend to appeal to older consumers.

This coincides with the preference for more traditional methods of supplementation, such as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda, among the elderly in Asia.

Developmental challenges

There is considerable potential for brands to successfully sell products containing TCM ingredients, but when it comes to innovations in Western-style health supplements, it might be an uphill climb for the industry in China.

A 2015 report by Mintel revealed that 42% of Chinese consumers still prefer TCM, and only 27% trust Western medicine. Educating Chinese consumers on the benefits of Western-style health supplements is therefore likely to be a “long-term effort”​.

Teodoro aded that  between April 2012 and March 2017, just 1% of global food, drink and healthcare products carried an immunity health claim, according to the Mintel Global New Products Database.

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