As consumers’ understanding of the role immunity, gut health and the microbiome play in achieving their wellness goals grows, so will demand for products that deliver these benefits.
Consumers no longer look to ingredients for seasonal immune support–they are demanding it year round.
“Many consumers took to heart that illness may not be limited to the traditional cold and flu season. Now, as consumers continue to look for simple solutions to help support their health every day, we’ve seen interest in immune support become a year-round trend and believe these attitudes will be with us for the long run,” said Jenna Nelson, Marketing Director for EpiCor Cargill.
Nelson explained that consumer awareness of postbiotics continues to grow, with an increased understanding of the term ‘postbiotic’ as well as a heightened interest in the category.
“Our latest proprietary research, conducted in the U.S., found 49% of shoppers are familiar with postbiotics and nine out of 10 probiotic users would consider adding a postbiotic to their daily routine. As science continues to be unveiled, as postbiotics becomes more popular in mainstream media, and as more products are launched that include postbiotics, we are confident those numbers will continue to grow,” she said, adding that a deeper understanding of the category will take time.
“Our research revealed that consumers perceive postbiotics to have similar health benefits to the more familiar probiotics. Additionally, a 2022 study by FMCG Gurus found 79% of consumers recognize the link between digestive and overall health, up 10 percentage points since 2018. Further, the consumer research firm noted that gut health is a leading area of interest for consumers with ‘building immunity’ being a key reason behind this focus.
According to the 2023 Council for Responsible Nutrition Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements, supplement use is strong, with three-quarters of Americans taking dietary supplements.
In recent years, immune health has been cited as one of the top reasons that users take supplements, with 60% of users taking vitamin C for their immune health. However, the CRN survey reported a notable decrease in use for immune support.
“As the American public largely moves on from the COVID-19 pandemic, usage of dietary supplements for immune health, and specific immunity-related supplement usage, has declined. The most common reason why supplement users take them is for overall health/wellness benefits (45%). While immune health remains in the second tier of reasons (alongside energy), there has been a nine percentage point drop in reported supplement usage for immune health from last year. This, however, marks a return to stated usage in 2020,” the survey’s executive summary noted.
The summary also stated that the reported decline in taking supplements for immune health has happened across demographic groups, but is more prevalent among supplement users who are women, living in urban and suburban areas (less so in rural areas), Asian/Pacific Islander, Black, and Hispanic supplement users, and across all ages, especially those who are 18-34 years old.
“Walk the floor at any major trade show, and the blurring of category lines is apparent. Consumers are looking for dietary supplements that deliver multiple benefits and brands are listening. Postbiotics, in particular, are well suited to these pairings, thanks to their inherent stability and ability to be paired with additional functional ingredients that address digestive health, sleep, cognition, or other health outcomes.”
Nelson added that one popular combination is stacking immune support with gut health.
“That’s a pairing that makes so much sense. We know there are more immune cells in the gut than anywhere else in the body, and it’s widely recognized that a healthy microbiome supports both gut integrity and the immune system. Further, we’ve learned we can positively affect the microbiota by adding to it with probiotics or modulating it with prebiotics. It is also becoming clear that postbiotics can support the gut microbiome and immune health, and we’re seeing more and more products that offer multiple biotic ingredients,” noted Nelson.
Another trend that has picked up in recent years is pet health. This year, SupplySide West is featuring pet programming, a key indication of the category’s growing success.
“We’re also seeing interest in immune support take off in the pet supplement space. Our EpiCor Pets postbiotic can help supplement brands that lean into this trend, with science-backed products that address the health needs of these furry companions."
While consumers have an appetite for dietary supplements that offer multiple health benefits, Nelson explained that combining functional ingredients often creates added formulation headaches.
“In this regard, brands will appreciate the versatility of inanimate postbiotics. Cargill’s offering, EpiCor, offers increased stability and consistency in dietary supplement formulations as compared to ingredients like probiotics. Probiotics are inherently harder to work with because they must remain alive – from processing and packaging until they reach the consumer’s gut. In contrast, EpiCor is an inanimate ingredient, with a low recommended dose of just 500 mg per day. It has been shown to handle varying pH levels and high heat conditions, increasing formulation flexibility, and it has a long shelf life.
"A consistent focus across the supplement space is the importance of offering science-backed ingredients. While all postbiotics are derived from fermentation of bacteria or yeast, they don’t all provide the same health benefits," Nelson said.
A glimpse at the crystal ball
Nelson predicts that as more products combine functional ingredients with multiple health benefits, tracking the immune support category will make for a challenge.
“Nevertheless, coming off the peak of 2020, I expect sales for the immune support category to stabilize. Add in the growing Immunity Plus products, and the sales outlook becomes even more positive.
“Another emerging trend we’re tracking in this space is the focus on semi-personalized products. People continue to look for products that speak to them and their needs – so that could translate into more products developed for specific age groups such as children or gender-specific offerings, all backed by science. People want products for children that are made and studied for children and products for women that are made and studied for women,” she said.