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Nutrition that Boosts Immunity: A Look at 2020 Global Consumer Trends

As a growing number of consumers explore how to boost the immune system quickly, there’s been a surging interest in immune system supplements. Explore global trends in immune system supplements—as well as which factors impact immunity, the most preferred immunity boosters for each age group, and key opportunities for manufacturers to meet this growing need.

Consumer Attitudes Toward Immunity

Globally, there has been an uptick in interest in immune system supplements, as well as foods to boost the immune system. FMCG Gurus1 reports that in the past year alone, consumers worldwide are making changes to their diets and lifestyles to improve their immunity—61 percent in North America, 56 percent in Europe, 50 percent in Africa, 48 percent in the Asia Pacific, and 45 percent in South America. The most common reason for making changes was the desire to be proactive about their health (as opposed to suffering from a health condition).

When consumers were asked to self-assess their immune health, in all regions except North America, more than half reported their immunity as good or very good—59 percent in Africa, 57 percent in the Asia Pacific, 55 percent in South America, and 52 percent in Europe. North American consumers were the least satisfied with their immune health, with only 49 percent describing their immunity as good or very good.

In the U.S., cold/flu/immunity supplements are 7 percent of the total supplement market, according to Nutrition Business Journal.2 The immune system supplements category is on track for continued strong growth, with sales forecast to reach $3.94 million by 2022, up from $3.17 million in 2018. 

Immune System Vitamins and Minerals

According to Mintel3, of global products launched between 2014 and 2019 with an immune system claim, 58 percent contained vitamins and 48 percent contained minerals. The top vitamins for immune system support used in these foods, beverages, and supplements were vitamins C, D, and B6, while zinc was the top mineral. The top ten micronutrients included in new immune-boosting products in the five-year period were:

  1. Vitamin C (38 percent)
  2. Vitamin D (31 percent)
  3. Vitamin B6 (27 percent)
  4. Vitamin A (26 percent)
  5. Zinc (25 percent)
  6. Vitamin E (24 percent)
  7. Calcium (24 percent)
  8. Folic acid (23 percent)
  9. Niacin (23 percent)
  10. Vitamin B1 (22 percent)

While numerous ingredients are showing up in products that boost the immune system, Mintel reports that the most recognized by consumers as providing immunity benefits are vitamin C, vitamin A, and zinc. However, FMCG Gurus found that in Europe, the Asia Pacific, and Africa, iron was the ingredient most frequently associated with improving the immune system, while magnesium was rated the highest in South America. 

Botanicals and Foods to Boost the Immune System

While some consumer segments are drawn more to immune system vitamins and minerals, others tend to look to foods and botanicals for immunity support. These consumers want to know how to boost the immune system naturally but still expect ingredients with well-researched, evidence-based benefits (e.g., ginger, camu camu, elderberry, and certain mushrooms).

Mintel 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:

  • Curcumin
  • Ginger
  • Green tea
  • Cinnamon
  • Korean ginseng extract
  • Maca
  • Echinacea extract
  • Reishi mushroom 
nutrition that boosts immunity

Factors that Impact 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 impacting immunity are:

  • Poor diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Chronic stress
  • Inadequate sleep
  • Age

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. Vitamins and minerals are also popular in immune products for seniors and are especially important since seniors are prone to micronutrient deficiencies from reduced gastrointestinal nutrient absorption. Pills are a preferred format by seniors, in addition to ready-to-drink nutrition shakes.

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 children have sufficient reserves of all essential nutrients. A nutritious diet combined with a chewable multivitamin-mineral supplement is 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. These include functional foods and beverages (especially with antioxidants or botanicals), supplements with immune support claims, and traditional multivitamin-mineral supplements—increasingly in alternative formats like gummies.

Key Opportunities for Manufacturers

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 iron-rich bioactive Bioferrin® to our All N™ Off-the-Shelf Antioxidant Blend, Glanbia Nutritionals has the resources to help you formulate products that will help support your consumers' health and well-being. 


References

1. FMCG Gurus. (2020). Insights & Opportunities – Immunity – Global 2020. 
2. Nutrition Business Journal. (2019). Condition Specific Report – 2019. 
3. Mintel. (2019). Defend Against Disease with Immunity-Boosting Products.