Kerry: Blurred lines between supplements and functional F&B amid rising immunity demands
24 Jun 2021 --- Consumers have never been more proactive when it comes to health through nutrition, with 42 percent of global consumers purchasing more functional or fortified foods and beverages since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out.
This is according to a Kerry survey of 13,000 people in 16 countries, which also revealed 44 percent have bought more dietary supplements amid the global crisis.
“Consumers were adopting increasingly proactive, holistic attitudes to health, wellness and nutrition long before 2020, but the pandemic has massively accelerated this trend,” says John Quilter, Kerry vice president of global portfolio – ProActive Health.
However, the lines are blurring between supplements and functional foods – which Kerry defines as a product formulated with ingredients offering a health or wellness benefit.
“It’s not necessarily either/or for consumers today – they may address one health and wellness goal via a daily supplement but look to a functional food or beverage to address another,” Quilter tells NutritionInsight.
What’s behind the functional food trend?
Quilter points out that familiarity and convenience are driving interest in functional F&B. “Consumers want everyday foods and beverages instead of another pill, and products such as functional beverages are generally quick and easy to consume.”
One in three consumers said they would be interested in purchasing fruit and vegetable juices if they contained ingredients that promoted immune support. Many other categories were also seen as a good fit for immune health benefits, including spoonable yogurt (31 percent), dairy-based drinks (28 percent) and hot beverages (24 percent).
However, interest in supplements remains strong, with 21 percent of consumers expressing interest in purchasing dietary supplement products if they contain ingredients that promote immune support.
“While some consumers may experience pill fatigue, we see a growth in a more diverse range of delivery formats for dietary supplements, including gummies, powders, stick packs, and even chewables – all of which provide additional options to consumers to pick the format that best fits their preferences and lifestyle,” details Quilter.
Unpacking health benefit associations
Quilter explains that consumer associations between certain types of F&B and specific health benefits are related to what’s historically been possible with different ingredients.
For example, probiotics are closely associated with products in the chiller aisle, such as yogurts, because traditional vegetative probiotics were very fragile.
“However, that’s changing as a result of the development of hardy spore-forming probiotic strains such as BC30. This has created opportunities in a far wider range of categories. Their resilient structure allows them to withstand harsh processing conditions – for example, the exposure to boiling water, which allows them to be used in probiotic teas.”
Temporal and regional considerations
Time of day can also influence perception, with consumers tending to believe that breakfast and mid-morning snacks are the best times to consume products with digestive or immune benefits.
“This is primarily due to the notion that it’s important to jumpstart our day with something healthy and good for us.”
Additionally, region can have an impact on what types of functional foods and beverages consumers.
In Europe, the category that consumers said they most desired immune health benefits was yogurt, but in North America, it was fruit and vegetable juices and in Asia, it was dairy-based drinks.
“There can be a range of reasons for this kind of variation. Socio-economic, historic, cultural and regulatory factors can all affect the way consumers view different food categories,” Quilter explains.
Demands beyond immunity
The survey also revealed just how much consumers are prioritizing immune support, with immune health emerging as the top health benefit sought by consumers in each of the 16 countries surveyed.
Respondents were presented with a list of health areas and asked which were reasons for buying healthy lifestyle products.
Globally, nearly six in ten (58 percent) chose immune system support, significantly more than the numbers who picked healthy bones and joints (46 percent), digestive health (43 percent), heart health (40 percent) and improved energy (39 percent).
As many as 39 percent of consumers had used an immune health product over the past six months, and a further 30 percent would consider doing so in future, suggesting a total potential immune health market of 69 percent.
Interest in Wellmune
The survey also assessed consumers’ perceptions of Wellmune, Kerry’s proprietary baker’s yeast beta 1,3/1,6 glucan that is clinically supported to help strengthen the immune system.
Respondents were given a detailed description of Wellmune and the types of formats in which it can be found. Eight in ten found the description believable, and 56 percent thought it was unique. Seven in ten said they would definitely or probably purchase a product containing Wellmune, and half said its inclusion would influence them to switch brands.
“Manufacturers should see the surge in demand for immune health products not as an opportunity but as a reason for increased responsibility,” says Quilter.
“Everyone in the immune health sector needs to earn the trust of consumers by communicating transparently about product benefits and using proven ingredients supported by high-quality research,” he concludes.
By Katherine Durrell
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