In the days and months following the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic, interest in immunity-boosting food and beverages (F&B) tripled among consumers. Google Trends data searches for the word ‘immune’ within the F&B category continually shot up until 100 weeks after the pandemic announcement. While F&B brands are more than happy to comply with this demand for immune-boosting foods, the perceived threat of the coronavirus is decreasing in this category with the deployment of vaccines and the public’s adjustment to the “new normal”.
The big question is: Do immune-boosting foods have staying power? While it may not be at the same rate as the beginning of the pandemic, there are many reasons why consumers remain interested in immune-boosting foods. To begin with, the definition of health itself is becoming more holistic. Fifty-five percent of consumers who participated in Innova’s Lifestyle & Attitudes survey reported they have taken action to maintain their physical wellbeing, with 44% taking care of their mental and emotional wellbeing, and 32% spending time on spiritual activities. The survey also found that the top three products consumers are most interested in for mental and emotional functions are products supporting brain health, mental simulation, and happiness. The desire to influence health and wellness through food and beverage is creating new opportunities for more personalized nutrition, with an increasing number of consumers seeking ways to tailor products they buy to their own individual styles, beliefs, and needs.
While the pandemic accelerated the trend of adding immunity-boosting ingredients to processed food, it’s not exactly a new concept. Products with characteristics like probiotic yogurts and gummy bears fortified with zinc, have been growing steadily over the years. The difference now is that people are recognizing that the immune system is far more complex than just fighting infections. It protects against oxidative stress to our physical and mental wellbeing, and the relationship with our gut microbiome. Food processors have also grown in their understanding of how their products can improve the immune system, with the rise in antioxidant-rich foods, adaptogens, therapeutic botanicals and spices, herbal teas, superfood powders, medicinal mushrooms, and fermented products.