May/June 2021

Immunity-boosting foods gain ground in market
By Melanie Epp, contributing writer

Immunity and health have become top-of-mind concerns for many consumers, as COVID-19 continues to cause concern.

In fact, focus on immunity is one of Innova Market Insights’ top trends for 2021. Major food retailers continue to showcase products that promise to boost immune health. The companies that provide those products, such as Gaia Herbs, have seen tremendous growth. While that growth has slowed, opportunity still abounds.

In its December 2020 report, Innova Market Insights published its Top Trends for 2021 report. In it, the company pointed to immune health as an area of prioritization for consumers.

“Ongoing anxiety stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to push consumers toward prioritizing their immune health,” said Lu Ann Williams, Global Insights Director at Innova Market Insights.

“Immunity-boosting ingredients will play a significant role for the coming year, while research and interest in the role of the microbiome and personalized nutrition as ways to strengthen immunity will accelerate,” she reported.

According to the report, six out of 10 global consumers are looking for food and beverage products that support immune health. Their research also found that 54% of global consumers said they spent time educating themselves on ingredients and procedures that could boost their immune health. Those same consumers said including foods high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants was key to achieving this goal. They also expressed interest in botanical ingredients.

In line with these predictions, the use of immune health positioning is on the rise; in the first 10 months of 2020, 1.65% of global launches used this type of claim (up from just 1% in the previous five years). Specifically, products carried terms such as immune health, immune boosting and immunity support in everything from baby products to sports nutrition to dairy products. America’s biggest retailers have hopped on the trend, as most weekly fliers carried a section with immunity-specific products.

Innova Marketing Insights isn’t the only group to predict health and immunity as a major food trend for 2021. Whole Foods Market also predicted increased focus on wellbeing. In an October 2020 press release they said they expected to see accelerated demand for superfoods, probiotics, broths and sauerkrauts. Consumers, they said, are also interested in products that include functional ingredients like vitamin C, mushrooms and adaptogens (or non-toxic plants that non-toxic plants that help the body resist physical, chemical and/or biological stressors.

Gaia Herbs sees tremendous growth

The global health crisis has led consumers to actively seek out products that support immune health. They are also being more proactive about their overall wellbeing to try to stay healthy, said Gaia Herbs Product Manager, Jonathan Fitzpatrick.

Gaia Herbs’ Black Elderberry syrup.

Gaia Herbs’ supplements supporting immune health experienced significant sales growth in 2020, he said. This increase is also being experienced by the entire natural products industry. In fact, according to SPINS, a wellness-focused data technology company, the entire herbal category exploded in March 2020, growing 93% over the previous year. Almost exclusively, immune products drove that growth, said Fitzpatrick. Demand has since leveled out.

Current trends in the entire category show a lasting impact on demand for immune products, said Fitzpatrick, who pointed to elderberry (+80% in previous 12 months), oregano (+35%) and Echinacea (+32%) as the three ingredients that are driving the most growth.

Gaia Herbs has seen significantly higher sales on its direct-to-consumer website for most of its immune-supportive herbs, and especially for products containing black elderberry and Echinacea. Gaia Herbs Black Elderberry Syrup sales, for example, have increased 3852% year over year, and Gaia Herbs Echinacea Supreme has experienced a sale increase of 531% in that same time, said Fitzpatrick.

Black elderberry syrup has been used as an immune season staple for decades, especially in the colder months of winter. Gaia Herbs uses only organic elderberries, fresh-pressed shortly after harvest to create a juice concentrate that compresses 14.5 grams of elderberries into a single teaspoon.

Accurate nutritional analysis essential

Accurate nutritional analysis is crucial to make sure end products are in compliance with labeling regulations and retailer guidelines. Companies like Intertek work with clients to ensure products meet those guidelines. They offer testing, inspection and insurance services, helping their clients to meet regulatory requirements concerning nutritional declaration and thus avoiding costly delays, explained Kenneth Cote, Intertek director of Agri-Business in the U.S. and Food Business in North America.

Customers send product samples for testing and Intertek provides a report on nutritional values, he explained. It takes five to seven business days to analyze the samples. Processors can also request microbial and pesticide residue analysis. Intertek also offers a checkmark program, which shows consumers that products have been analyzed and validated.

“What we’re trying to do is have a one-stop shop,” said Cote. “So we really built our services around that. They can come to us for everything from their environmental monitoring programs to their nutritional labeling analysis, testing for certification systems in their facilities.”

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While Gaia Herbs had their product tested and validated, they wanted to go a step further by creating a traceability program to build transparency into their brand. Consumers can trace product ingredients by entering an ID number (located on the back of the product) into the platform. Consumers can use that number to trace ingredients to their source, revealing where herbs were grown, harvested and extracted, explained Alexandra Dunne, Gaia Herbs Product Information Specialist. 

The traceability program shows the tests the product underwent to validate purity, integrity and potency. This transparency has helped to build consumer trust over the past 30 years.

As a processor of food products, you may want to jump on the immunity-boosting food trend and offer products that enhance health through nutrition. Know, though, that any claims made on a product must be tested and verified first.

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