Still surging? Pandemic over but immune health category still top of mind for consumers – industry players

By Hui Ling Dang

- Last updated on GMT

Soul Strips' immune-boosting oral strips are said to be gaining interest in the Middle East and will soon be launched in the US. ©Soul Strips
Soul Strips' immune-boosting oral strips are said to be gaining interest in the Middle East and will soon be launched in the US. ©Soul Strips

Related tags Immune health Immunity COVID-19 immune support

The spike in demand for immune-related products has not dwindled after COVID-19, and is in fact showing signs of long-lasting potential, say several industry players.

Although the world has moved past shadows of the pandemic, nutraceutical companies across the Asia-Pacific region have shared optimistic sentiments about further growth of the immunity category.

This is despite several reports suggesting that the category was on the wane after the sales surge during the pandemic.

For instance, India-based firm Soul Strips, which includes immune-boosting oral strips for adults and children in its portfolio, said that these products are constantly getting interest and orders from around the world.

“Immunity has always been important, but the pandemic opened our eyes as to exactly how crucial it is. The habit of taking external immune support has continued because people now want to be prepared not just for pandemics, but for small viral outbreaks as well.  

“The post-pandemic demand for immune supplements has increased and consumers are actively looking to bolster their immunity via nutraceutical means. Our immunity products are currently available in the UAE and GCC countries. We will also launching them in the US very soon,” ​Avinash Madhavan, Business Development Director of Soul Strips, told NutraIngredients-Asia​.

Similar observations have been made by industry players in South East Asia.

For example, Thai nutraceutical firm 3C Group recently signed an agreement with UK-based Clasado Biosciences​ for exclusive distribution rights of the latter’s proprietary prebiotic ingredient Bimuno GOS and its D2C product, Bimuno Original, in the local market.

Besides gut and digestive health, the firm has identified immunity as a key area to focus on. It intends to develop synbiotic products by combining Bimuno with probiotics, which Thai consumers are more familiar with.

“After COVID-19, people are looking for ingredients that really help with immunity, and probiotics is one of those categories. Studies have shown that Bimuno works well when combined with probiotics. With synbiotics, we will focus on enhancing immunity and gut health of the seniors,”​ Nuttapon Songpornprasert, CEO of 3C Group, explained.

Booming category in ANZ

In the Oceania region, immunity has also been recognised as a persistent trend.

Netherlands-based NutriLeads​ announced in August that eight immune health claims of its flagship prebiotic ingredient BeniCaros have been notified to Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ). This means that manufacturers in these two countries are allowed to include the claims on product labels.

In addition, the ingredient has been permitted for use without restrictions in dietary supplements regulated by Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

“What we see in the post-COVID era is that immunity remains top of mind for many people. Having our claims notified sends a definite signal that BeniCaros has clinically proven effects on immune health, and can help both manufacturers and consumers better understand what our product can do for them,” ​said Robin Hesdahl, Commercial Director at NutriLeads.

The FSANZ claims, which are based on results of peer-reviewed randomised clinical research, include reducing the severity and duration of common cold symptoms, stimulating innate immune and anti-viral response, and supporting immune function and defences.

Based on a consumer study co-conducted by NutriLeads and FMCG Gurus across 15 countries, the number of adults taking action to strengthen their immune health rose most in APAC from 2020 (51%) to 2022 (67%).

It was also found that consumers no longer consider immunity as a “once-a-year concern” of seasonal flu but the foundation for better long-term health.

In addition, NutriLeads has seen growing interest from manufacturers and distributors to develop a range of products using BeniCaros. These include functional beverages and dietary supplements in various formats, such as powder sachet, gummy and capsule.

The firm expects some of these ongoing developments to crystallise into commercial products by mid-next year.

This is likely motivated by the rising demand for functional foods and beverages in the region, which has been noted by New Zealand-based FMCG company Red Shoots​.

According to the firm’s co-founder, Rhona MacKenzie, consumers are increasingly looking for products with functional benefits in supermarkets, while retailers are starting to accept immunity as a growing category with long-term potential “worth investing in”.

“COVID-19 has made many consumers hyper aware of their health and re-evaluate their consumption habits. There were different trends over the past few years, but immunity stayed around. Consumers are aware of immunity and gut health, and they are aware of functional products,” ​she added.

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