Report finds immunity supporting foods and supplement adoption boosted by pandemic fears

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Report finds immunity foods & supplement adoption boosted by pandemic fears

Related tags: pandemic, COVID, COVID-19

A report by The Global Wellness Economy (GWI) identifies an upsurge in immunity-focused food consumption and supplement use, buoyed on by ongoing health disruptions caused by COVID-19.

Released yesterday, the report highlights healthy eating, nutrition, & weight loss as one of five wellness sectors that grew during 2019-2020 at the height of the pandemic.

Figures compiled by the non-profit organisation, record a 5.0% Average Annual Growth Rate (AAGR) of the European healthy eating, nutrition, & weight loss market from €194.1bn ($219.7bn) in 2019 to €203.9bn ($230.7bn) in 2020.

Of the subsectors that represent this sector, the growth of the vitamins & supplement market fared best of all with a global AAGR of 4.1% from €116.4bn ($131.8bn) in 2019 to €121.3bn ($137.3bn) in 2020, exceeding growth noted in the Healthy-Labelled Foods & Beverages (3.8%) and Weight Loss Products & Services (2.2%).

Despite the upbeat figures, the GWI cautions that 2020’s sector growth should not be interpreted as “consumers were eating healthier during the pandemic”​ – and, in fact, the opposite may be the case. 

“Consumer spending  on  certain  categories  of  foods,  beverages,  and  supplements  labelled  as healthy is  not  an indicator of healthy diets, when there is no consensus on how healthy these products are, or what a “healthy diet” even means,”​ the report’s authors write.

Healthy diet definition

The report, written by GWI’s Senior Research Fellows Ophelia Yeung and Katherine Johnston and Research Fellow Tonia Callender, goes on to say that the healthy diet definition is more multifaceted than ever before, with cultural, family traditions, lifestyle habits, income, age, local economy, to be considered amongst other factors.

Product makers and developers have responded in kind by making available protein-enhanced snacks and drinks, yogurts with probiotics, and turmeric-laced coffee to further expand on the healthy diet term.

The authors go on to highlight COVID-19 as a magnifying glass to consumer diets, driving desires and spending for “quick fixes” to compensate for diet deficiencies, lose weight, or to address specific  health concerns.

“People looked for easy ways to “boost immunity” and ward off disease via vitamins, supplements, and “immune boosting”  foods,”​ the authors add.

“The last 50 years are full  of purportedly  healthy  fad diets  that sought to avoid “bad” ingredients such as saturated fats, salt, carbs, gluten, and additives.

“In recent decades, the focus has been shifting toward the proactive consumption of nutrients that are marketed as “good,” such as probiotics,  protein, fibre, and superfoods.”

Mental Wellness Market

The report also goes on to discuss Mental Wellness as another sector that has fared well between 2019-2020 not least by the surge in brain-boosting nutraceuticals and botanicals as a subsector.

In Europe, GWI estimate the Mental Wellness Market in Europe to be worth €22.62bn ($25.59bn) in 2020, an AAGR growth of 6.3% from 2019’s estimate of €21.27bn ($24.06bn).

Here, nutraceuticals  and  botanicals for brain health represented the second-largest segment, with GWI valuing the global market at €34.5bn ($39bn) and achieving 11.6% global growth in 2020.

This segment, which includes over-the counter supplements, herbals and botanicals, targeting better sleep, brain health, memory and energy; functional foods and beverages with purported brain health benefits; and cannabis and cannabis derivatives, also attributed COVID-19 to an increase in usage.

The report quotes warnings from The United Nations (UN) and World Health Organization (WHO) of a looming mental health crisis as people face death and disease and are forced into isolation, poverty and anxiety by the pandemic of COVID-19” – a crisis that some have labelled the “second pandemic.”

“Mental wellness is no longer something one practices only with a meditation teacher, with a life coach, or on a retreat; it now extends to our homes, schools, workplaces, exercise, built environment, and travel,”​ the report points out.

“This is creating expansive market opportunities – supplements, cannabis, mushrooms, meditation apps, human-centric lighting, biophilic design, sound therapy gadgets, smart bedding, and much more.”

The report, ‘The Global Wellness Economy: Looking Beyond COVID,’ is available to download​ for free from the Global Wellness Institute’s website.

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