Kerry VP shines light on shifting immunity attitudes amid COVID-19
07 Apr 2020 --- The COVID-19 pandemic will lead to “long-lasting” changes in popular attitudes surrounding immune health. This is according to John Quilter, Vice President and General Manager at Kerry, who discusses the main drivers behind interest in immunity with NutritionInsight. Under the Wellmune brand, the company has carried out a survey of over 11,000 consumers in 14 different countries, which revealed the importance of scientific-backing and transparency on any lifestyle product.
“In one sense, the desire for immune health has always been – and will always be – present. It’s the foundation of a high quality of life for all of us; however old we are, wherever we are in the world, we all want to avoid getting sick. However, the impact of this current crisis on attitudes to immune health will undoubtedly be long-lasting. Whole generations have been given the most serious possible demonstration of the importance of activities, such as hand-washing, getting enough sleep and eating healthily,” notes Quilter.
He further explains that many consumers have also responded by turning to functional foods, beverages and supplements. “This is obviously a time of huge anxiety for everyone across the world. Demand for immune health ingredients has increased and we fully expect it to remain high. We expect [this very high level of demand] to be sustained long into the future. Fortunately, we’re in a position to help meet it.”
According to Wellmune’s survey – which was carried out in 2019 before the pandemic occurred – 34 percent of consumers would be interested in purchasing a supplement if it supported the immune system.
Additionally, 39 percent of consumers say seeing claims based on research or scientific data would make them more likely to buy a healthy lifestyle product. This figure rose to above half in some regions, with 51 percent of consumers in Brazil and Thailand considering research data a top purchase driver.
Notably, transparency is also a key factor in many regions. In China, 48 percent of consumers want to see the benefits of a healthy lifestyle product explained on the packaging – a figure that rises to 50 percent in Mexico.
“The range of choices available to consumers has made them more discerning. The market for healthy lifestyle products is increasingly crowded and often confusing. In response, many consumers have become more skeptical. For example, only 15 percent believe nutrition and performance drinks deliver on their promises. The only sustainable strategy is to use ingredients that are supported by solid science. Our survey confirms this. It shows that claims backed by strong scientific evidence enhance product desirability, especially if they’re communicated clearly on the packaging,” explains Quilter.
Demands driven by range of factors
Aside from the prescient global conditions, demand has also risen in recent years for a number of reasons, including for the aging population. “The number of people over the age of 60 is projected to hit 2.1 billion globally by 2050, and they are looking to stay healthy and active for longer. Another reason is that consumers are now more proactive when it comes to their health,” continues Quilter.
He states that all of this has contributed to the growth of the immune health category, which now represents the third-largest segment of the global supplements market, with a value of US$6.65 billion. However, the key challenge – which is also an opportunity – is to deliver on consumer demand for immune health ingredients in a wider range of categories and applications.
“One example is sports nutrition. Immune health is increasingly a focus for elite athletes and casual fitness enthusiasts alike, none of whom want their sporting goals ruined by bugs. A survey in the UK found that 37 percent of consumers would buy a sports beverage that supported the immune system,” he explains.
He continues that athletes at all levels can face harsh environmental factors, such as increased exposure to crowds or travel exhaustion, as well as physical and psychological stress. These factors can negatively impact the immune system and overall physical health. However, [yeast beta-glucan] Wellmune provides clinically proven immune support for athletes.”
Reducing upper respiratory tract infection symptoms
Quilter notes that a clinical study found that marathoners taking Wellmune for four weeks experienced a 40 percent reduction in upper respiratory tract infection symptoms. Meanwhile, separate research observed Wellmune reducing the total severity of upper respiratory tract infection symptoms and duration of symptoms during marathon training and post-marathon participation.
Wellmune works by boosting the action of macrophages. Macrophages, the white blood cells that attack threats to the immune system, recognize foreign substances like viruses and prime these cells to fight an infection or inflammation. The overall effect is to “prime” the immune system, rather than “boost” it, as occurs with immune enhancers, which may lead to cellular stress and compromise how cells function, states the company.
Last month, Don Cox, Director of R&D at Wellmune, explained that traditional methods of maintaining immune health are still important, but that misinformation is always a concern and that people should consult with their physician before taking any nutritional supplement.
In September, experts from the International Society for Glucan Research told NutritionInsight that beta-glucan is set to overtake omega 3 in popularity over the coming years as new research bolsters various health claims, including immunity.
Other supplements linked to immunity have also seen increased popularity, including vitamin C. “There has been a significant increase in demand for vitamin C and its derivatives in the past eight weeks. As the spread of COVID-19 outside China increased, the demand for immunity support products – of which vitamin C is probably the most well-known – increased dramatically,” Nic Dam, Prinova Group’s Managing Director, told NutritionInsight last week.
In light of these rapid developments NutritionInsight has launched a daily news feed for the coronavirus-related information and insights you need to guide your business through this challenging period.
By Katherine Durrell
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