The global pandemic has escalated an already growing trend for health products, especially immunity-boosting food and drink. This increasing consumer demand is creating opportunities for food and beverage producers worldwide – but they need to react quickly.
"We're definitely seeing a trend," says Global Category Manager Giancarlos La Rocca of the Tetra Pak Marketing Services team in Modena, Italy. "We can see it in conversations we're having with our customers and colleagues, and the kind of invitations we're getting from suppliers to webinars and events, and it's backed by our own research.
"We knew that interest was already high in functional products – with consumers searching for terms such as 'digestive health' and 'brain health' – but recently we've seen a significant shift towards searches on products and ingredients that can boost people's immune systems. There's no doubt this has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic."
According to research by Mintel, the COVID-19 outbreak has prompted 45% of consumers in Europe to add more nutrients into their diet, while 29% reported being more interested in foods that can support your immune system since the start of the pandemic.
Google Trends data also shows an approximate 500% increase in searches for immunity in food and drink worldwide by week, following the onset of COVID-19.
So, what exactly is an immunity-boosting product? According to Giancarlos, they fall into two main categories. "The first is focused on nutrition and ingredients," he says. "Here we're talking about nutrients such as vitamins and probiotics that can have a direct positive impact on the immune system. The second category is more holistic: products that can boost overall wellbeing, for example by helping you to sleep, or supporting you while you exercise."
Product launches in the health segment have traditionally focused on convenience and specific food categories that offer the consumer a health boost. These include dairy products and beverages, for example probiotic yoghurt drinks and water, tea or juice with nutritional supplements. However, there are many other possibilities that can be explored.
"It's a segment that is wide enough for existing customers and new players to find their place," says Giancarlos. "But it's not without its challenges. As an industry, we must communicate that these are not necessarily medical products but rather functional foods and beverages that are enriched or enhanced, with the intention of boosting immunity as part of a healthy lifestyle. It is about consumers taking a proactive approach every day to protect themselves against ill health."
Finding the right balance when positioning immunity-boosting products is also an important factor. Food and beverage producers must consider the price point at the formulation stage, and while premium products have their place, the current climate also demands convenience, value for money and accessibility.
Tetra Pak recognizes that customers must respond quickly if they want to satisfy consumer demand in this growing area. We have been working with customers to find ways to tap into the trend, drawing on our expertise in Processing and in our Customer Innovation Centres to reformulate or develop new products. Our aim is to provide a fast track to innovation, and our Marketing Services teams are working hard to support our customers with the launch of new products and reposition existing ones.
"We can in fact support the full immunity-boosting product lifecycle," says Giancarlos. "We have extensive consumer insights in this area, can develop and formulate products, and process and package them using the latest techniques. We can also assist customers with product design, branding, positioning, consumer testing and route to market with an end-to-end approach."
Giancarlos says that Tetra Pak's focus now is on building and identifying further opportunities to support customers. "We believe there is potential across the board in many categories to really focus on how these products can optimise health. This is a trend; but it's not a fad. Whoever can respond quickly will see major gains in the long term. This focus on immunity and wellness is here to stay."
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