“You think a few years ago, a trip to CVS or Walgreens or GNC or The Vitamin Shoppe for immune support products would give you a pretty slim selection, but today there are all kinds of products and options for people,” Vaughn Dubow, Director of Marketing at ADM, told us. “The category has really expanded. It has tripled in size over the past 10 years and the majority of that growth has been in the last two years.”
Citing up-to-date numbers from Euromonitor, Dubow said the global immune system category for dietary supplements ended the 2021 year at US$9.03 billion.
The increased consumer interest and focus on immune support has led to the launch of many new products onto the market, many of which are formulated with similar ingredients, including vitamins C and D, zinc, elderberry, and echinacea.
For the category to move forward, ADM predicts the products will broaden their ingredient decks to include bioactives that tap into health benefits linked to immune support, said Dr Janice Rueda, VP, nutrition science business development, ADM
“Consumers increasingly aware of options outside of the traditional nutrients like zinc and vitamin C,” she told us. “There’s an increase in awareness around the microbiome and its link to immune function and health.
“There is a real opportunity to enhance the benefit profile of a specific product. Immune function plus, to include ingredients for sleep, stress management, and/or metabolic health, all of which are taking a toll on life experiences.”
Supplements and food
Internal ADM consumer research shows that immunity is top of mind for everyone, said Dubow, with 75% of people making greater attempts to be healthier, and 65% more concerned with immunity with respect to COVID-19.
“It’s not just about supplements. Large CPG companies recognize they need to play in the immunity space, and they’re coming to us to see what we have,” he said.
The company’s extensive portfolio allows them to work with customers to customize their formulations. “Being experienced with so many ingredients we can help customers customized their formulations, including botanicals, fiber and carbohydrates for the sweetness profile, and other ingredients for auxiliary support in the whole product,” said Dr Rueda.
For example, ADM’s BPL1 (Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis BPL1 (CECT 8145)) is positioned for metabolic health and weight management, and efficacy has been reported for both viable (probiotic) and heat-treated BPL1 (postbiotic). Such an ingredient can be used alongside other ingredients like Fibersol and botanicals, such as tea extracts, to build out an immune support plus formulation.
There were some signs late 2021 that the immune support category may be slowing, and perhaps transitioning back to a seasonal market, as vaccination rates increased, and remaining restrictions eased. However, that was pre-omicron.
“From a scientific perspective, COVID will become endemic and may become seasonal [like colds and flu], but it will always be there and that feeds into the ongoing strength in this market,” said Dr Rueda.
But what will that market look like in the years ahead? “There are a lot of “me too” products in the immune support space,” said Dubow, “so why would consumers choose one product over another? A lot of times it comes down to cost. It’s a race to the bottom. Differentiation allows you to race to the top.
“You cannot feel your immune system (but you do feel when it isn’t working well) so you’re going to see more experiential products,” he said, and that means, for example, immune support products launching with caffeine.
“Because of our collective COVID-19 experience, immunity will always be in the back of our minds,” said Dr Rueda. “And that opens up other target spaces attached to that immune anchor”
A growing market
According to data from the Council for Responsible Nutrition’s 2021 Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements, immunity is the number two reason for using dietary supplement products, cited by 36% of survey respondents. This was a 4% increase year-on-year.
The survey also reported that probiotics use increased by 3% from 2020 and are now taken by 14% of dietary supplement users. The main reasons cited for taking these products were: GI support (65%); general health (53%); and immune support (48%).
Additional data from ClearCut Analytics indicates that probiotics are now the number one selling supplement type on Amazon, with 43% year-on-year growth.