Eating for immunity: the evolution of functional foods

Eating for immunity: the evolution of functional foods

By
Laura Robinson
May 12, 2020

Starting to get the sniffles? For decades, moms and grannies across the world have plied us with natural remedies – from orange juice to garlic – at the first signs of a cold.

Today, we’re taking a more proactive and prevention-oriented approach towards health and nutrition. In fact, one in three conversations about food focuses on the wellbeing benefits that specific products will offer us, leading experts to predict that the global functional foods market will reach $275 billion by 2025.

And boosting our immunity seems to be at the top of our health wish list. Food chatter around the term “immune system” has been increasing by 66% month over month for some time. But as the COVID-19 pandemic set in, products typically associated with strengthening natural defenses – like probiotic yoghurts or wellness shots – have experienced a surge in sales.  

But will interest die down as we flatten the curve? Or will immune system health products remain, as experts claim, a hyper-growth category for years to come?

Trend drivers: proactive, healthy convenience and new technologies

Millennials – as the most wellness-oriented generation yet – are unsurprisingly leading the immunity-boosting craze. For them, health is not just the absence of illness. It’s a daily commitment to better living – including optimal nutrition. But often, their busy lifestyles don’t make it easy for them to eat in line with these values. So functional foods are a quick and convenient compromise.

But the coronavirus pandemic has also highlighted the importance of investing in health across all generations. In uncertain times, when so many aspects of our daily lives feel out of our control, choosing fortified foods can give us a sense of comfort. They feel like a tangible way to proactively protect ourselves and our families.

Technical developments have also made it easier than ever for manufacturers to integrate immune health ingredients into their products. Supplements are now increasingly stable and their flavour more neutral, meaning that they can be used in a greater range of applications. This has helped to open up the market and enable products to make the leap from the health foods section to mainstream supermarket aisles.

Techie tips to spot and market ingredient trends

But only recognizing the trend itself won’t get food businesses very far. They need to know which specific benefits and ingredients their health-driven customers are looking for. So many companies are turning to the latest technologies for answers.

Tastewise - an Israeli AI-powered food intelligence start-up - analyzes data points from social media interactions, online recipes and restaurant menus to help companies to spot emerging ingredient trends. A recently launched report on the functional foods market recognized staggering growth in internet searches for immunity-related terms and namechecked elderberry, kiwi, beetroot and pickles as promising ingredient categories.

Spoon Guru – a UK-based food technology company – can also help food businesses apply this knowledge to inform their marketing strategies. Their recently launched “immunity support TAG” helps retailers introduce consumers to products that reflect their specific requirements and preferences – from online promotion and e-commerce personalisation to in-store placement. In terms of ingredient choices, they highlight the connection between gut health and immunity, indicating a growing focus on products rich in zinc, vitamin c, prebiotics, probiotics and antioxidants.

Popular products: Yoghurts, beverages and snacks

Probiotic yoghurt and yoghurt-based drinks have typically been the most popular and well-established categories for immune health claims. But more recently, Kefir – a cultured fermented beverage boasting three times more probiotics – has become another rising superstar. Since the start of lockdown, leading brands in both categories have reported sales uplifts of 47% - 188% on various product ranges. Many food and beverage companies have now taken the pro- and prebiotic craze a step further, by including them in sodas, shots, smoothies, cookies and snack bars.

Consumers’ quest for natural health-boosting ingredients is also driving the mainstreaming of products fortified with beta glucans. This compound found in shiitake mushrooms, baker’s yeast and grains like oat and barley has been shown to support immune health, particularly amongst children, athletes or older populations. Innovative manufacturers have already started using it to fortify baked goods, snacks and beverages and a recent report predicts that the market will grow to $815 million by 2026.

From functional shots to fruit pouches: Vive Organic and Charles & Alice

Back in 2015, Wyatt Taubmann was sick of being sick. But after feeling the effects of a homemade ginger shot, he became a big believer in the health-inducing powers of natural ingredients like turmeric and echinacea. Convinced he was onto something big, he teamed up with two friends and founded Vive Organic. From 2016 to 2017 sales grew eight-fold, leading the company to bag a cool $7 million in a series A funding round in 2018. Their clear immunity-boosting claims – featured pride of place on their packaging and website – have obviously resonated with health-hungry consumers. Vive has since become number one cold-pressed, immunity shots brand and recently launched two new products to expand their range into the active consumer category.

When looking to develop a new product for the US market, Charles & Alice’s marketing experts quickly recognised that parents weren’t only looking for natural and convenient options. They also craved products that actively boosted their children’s immune health. So they partnered with the Kerry Group to include “Wellmune”, a natural, clinically-tested beta glucan-based ingredient, and GanedenBC30, a natural probiotic, in two of their products, clearly communicating their immunity-boosting claims in marketing messages. Their Kids! Fruit Probiotics fruit pouches soon became a leader in refrigerated snack products in the US. Recognizing the opportunity posed by the pandemic, the company has recently launched the brand in Mexico.


Hope or hype? Let’s let science do the talking.

There’s no silver bullet when it comes to immune health. Of course, a balanced diet, packed with plenty of vitamins and minerals, will always give us a fighting chance of keeping fit. But experts agree that more research is needed when it comes to understanding the full range of factors that allow our immune systems to perform at an optimal level.

As increasingly health-savvy consumers continue to seek out new products to guide them towards their holy grail of wellbeing, it’s likely that evidence-based claims will become a key differentiating factor, helping to build consumer confidence and enabling brands to compete in an increasingly busy marketplace.


Business opportunities

  • Looking to refresh your post-corona menu? Consider including some popular immune-boosting ingredients in breakfast or buddha bowls or offer some add-ons – like ginger or echinacea - to give your juices or fruit and veg smoothies an extra nutrition boost

  • Interested in stocking more immunity-boosting products ? Try developing a dedicated immunity-boosting space on your shelves or experiment with integrating fortified items alongside their standard alternatives to help your customers discover new products that may better meet their needs.

Written by
Laura Robinson

From policy geek to digital consultant, Laura has always enjoyed bringing people together through words or tools to drive positive change. She is most proud of finally taking the leap into entrepreneurship by founding Pink Pear Agency - a network of passionate specialists who help food businesses grow innovative projects and share their stories with the world. Laura is currently interested in project development and management, digital tools, content strategy and copywriting.

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  • Read Unlimited Articles
  • Access Member Directory
  • Get Event Discounts

Starting to get the sniffles? For decades, moms and grannies across the world have plied us with natural remedies – from orange juice to garlic – at the first signs of a cold.

Today, we’re taking a more proactive and prevention-oriented approach towards health and nutrition. In fact, one in three conversations about food focuses on the wellbeing benefits that specific products will offer us, leading experts to predict that the global functional foods market will reach $275 billion by 2025.

And boosting our immunity seems to be at the top of our health wish list. Food chatter around the term “immune system” has been increasing by 66% month over month for some time. But as the COVID-19 pandemic set in, products typically associated with strengthening natural defenses – like probiotic yoghurts or wellness shots – have experienced a surge in sales.  

But will interest die down as we flatten the curve? Or will immune system health products remain, as experts claim, a hyper-growth category for years to come?

Trend drivers: proactive, healthy convenience and new technologies

Millennials – as the most wellness-oriented generation yet – are unsurprisingly leading the immunity-boosting craze. For them, health is not just the absence of illness. It’s a daily commitment to better living – including optimal nutrition. But often, their busy lifestyles don’t make it easy for them to eat in line with these values. So functional foods are a quick and convenient compromise.

But the coronavirus pandemic has also highlighted the importance of investing in health across all generations. In uncertain times, when so many aspects of our daily lives feel out of our control, choosing fortified foods can give us a sense of comfort. They feel like a tangible way to proactively protect ourselves and our families.

Technical developments have also made it easier than ever for manufacturers to integrate immune health ingredients into their products. Supplements are now increasingly stable and their flavour more neutral, meaning that they can be used in a greater range of applications. This has helped to open up the market and enable products to make the leap from the health foods section to mainstream supermarket aisles.

Techie tips to spot and market ingredient trends

But only recognizing the trend itself won’t get food businesses very far. They need to know which specific benefits and ingredients their health-driven customers are looking for. So many companies are turning to the latest technologies for answers.

Tastewise - an Israeli AI-powered food intelligence start-up - analyzes data points from social media interactions, online recipes and restaurant menus to help companies to spot emerging ingredient trends. A recently launched report on the functional foods market recognized staggering growth in internet searches for immunity-related terms and namechecked elderberry, kiwi, beetroot and pickles as promising ingredient categories.

Spoon Guru – a UK-based food technology company – can also help food businesses apply this knowledge to inform their marketing strategies. Their recently launched “immunity support TAG” helps retailers introduce consumers to products that reflect their specific requirements and preferences – from online promotion and e-commerce personalisation to in-store placement. In terms of ingredient choices, they highlight the connection between gut health and immunity, indicating a growing focus on products rich in zinc, vitamin c, prebiotics, probiotics and antioxidants.

Popular products: Yoghurts, beverages and snacks

Probiotic yoghurt and yoghurt-based drinks have typically been the most popular and well-established categories for immune health claims. But more recently, Kefir – a cultured fermented beverage boasting three times more probiotics – has become another rising superstar. Since the start of lockdown, leading brands in both categories have reported sales uplifts of 47% - 188% on various product ranges. Many food and beverage companies have now taken the pro- and prebiotic craze a step further, by including them in sodas, shots, smoothies, cookies and snack bars.

Consumers’ quest for natural health-boosting ingredients is also driving the mainstreaming of products fortified with beta glucans. This compound found in shiitake mushrooms, baker’s yeast and grains like oat and barley has been shown to support immune health, particularly amongst children, athletes or older populations. Innovative manufacturers have already started using it to fortify baked goods, snacks and beverages and a recent report predicts that the market will grow to $815 million by 2026.

From functional shots to fruit pouches: Vive Organic and Charles & Alice

Back in 2015, Wyatt Taubmann was sick of being sick. But after feeling the effects of a homemade ginger shot, he became a big believer in the health-inducing powers of natural ingredients like turmeric and echinacea. Convinced he was onto something big, he teamed up with two friends and founded Vive Organic. From 2016 to 2017 sales grew eight-fold, leading the company to bag a cool $7 million in a series A funding round in 2018. Their clear immunity-boosting claims – featured pride of place on their packaging and website – have obviously resonated with health-hungry consumers. Vive has since become number one cold-pressed, immunity shots brand and recently launched two new products to expand their range into the active consumer category.

When looking to develop a new product for the US market, Charles & Alice’s marketing experts quickly recognised that parents weren’t only looking for natural and convenient options. They also craved products that actively boosted their children’s immune health. So they partnered with the Kerry Group to include “Wellmune”, a natural, clinically-tested beta glucan-based ingredient, and GanedenBC30, a natural probiotic, in two of their products, clearly communicating their immunity-boosting claims in marketing messages. Their Kids! Fruit Probiotics fruit pouches soon became a leader in refrigerated snack products in the US. Recognizing the opportunity posed by the pandemic, the company has recently launched the brand in Mexico.


Hope or hype? Let’s let science do the talking.

There’s no silver bullet when it comes to immune health. Of course, a balanced diet, packed with plenty of vitamins and minerals, will always give us a fighting chance of keeping fit. But experts agree that more research is needed when it comes to understanding the full range of factors that allow our immune systems to perform at an optimal level.

As increasingly health-savvy consumers continue to seek out new products to guide them towards their holy grail of wellbeing, it’s likely that evidence-based claims will become a key differentiating factor, helping to build consumer confidence and enabling brands to compete in an increasingly busy marketplace.


Business opportunities

  • Looking to refresh your post-corona menu? Consider including some popular immune-boosting ingredients in breakfast or buddha bowls or offer some add-ons – like ginger or echinacea - to give your juices or fruit and veg smoothies an extra nutrition boost

  • Interested in stocking more immunity-boosting products ? Try developing a dedicated immunity-boosting space on your shelves or experiment with integrating fortified items alongside their standard alternatives to help your customers discover new products that may better meet their needs.

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  • Read Unlimited Articles
  • Access Member Directory
  • Join a Global Community
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Starting to get the sniffles? For decades, moms and grannies across the world have plied us with natural remedies – from orange juice to garlic – at the first signs of a cold.

Today, we’re taking a more proactive and prevention-oriented approach towards health and nutrition. In fact, one in three conversations about food focuses on the wellbeing benefits that specific products will offer us, leading experts to predict that the global functional foods market will reach $275 billion by 2025.

And boosting our immunity seems to be at the top of our health wish list. Food chatter around the term “immune system” has been increasing by 66% month over month for some time. But as the COVID-19 pandemic set in, products typically associated with strengthening natural defenses – like probiotic yoghurts or wellness shots – have experienced a surge in sales.  

But will interest die down as we flatten the curve? Or will immune system health products remain, as experts claim, a hyper-growth category for years to come?

Trend drivers: proactive, healthy convenience and new technologies

Millennials – as the most wellness-oriented generation yet – are unsurprisingly leading the immunity-boosting craze. For them, health is not just the absence of illness. It’s a daily commitment to better living – including optimal nutrition. But often, their busy lifestyles don’t make it easy for them to eat in line with these values. So functional foods are a quick and convenient compromise.

But the coronavirus pandemic has also highlighted the importance of investing in health across all generations. In uncertain times, when so many aspects of our daily lives feel out of our control, choosing fortified foods can give us a sense of comfort. They feel like a tangible way to proactively protect ourselves and our families.

Technical developments have also made it easier than ever for manufacturers to integrate immune health ingredients into their products. Supplements are now increasingly stable and their flavour more neutral, meaning that they can be used in a greater range of applications. This has helped to open up the market and enable products to make the leap from the health foods section to mainstream supermarket aisles.

Techie tips to spot and market ingredient trends

But only recognizing the trend itself won’t get food businesses very far. They need to know which specific benefits and ingredients their health-driven customers are looking for. So many companies are turning to the latest technologies for answers.

Tastewise - an Israeli AI-powered food intelligence start-up - analyzes data points from social media interactions, online recipes and restaurant menus to help companies to spot emerging ingredient trends. A recently launched report on the functional foods market recognized staggering growth in internet searches for immunity-related terms and namechecked elderberry, kiwi, beetroot and pickles as promising ingredient categories.

Spoon Guru – a UK-based food technology company – can also help food businesses apply this knowledge to inform their marketing strategies. Their recently launched “immunity support TAG” helps retailers introduce consumers to products that reflect their specific requirements and preferences – from online promotion and e-commerce personalisation to in-store placement. In terms of ingredient choices, they highlight the connection between gut health and immunity, indicating a growing focus on products rich in zinc, vitamin c, prebiotics, probiotics and antioxidants.

Popular products: Yoghurts, beverages and snacks

Probiotic yoghurt and yoghurt-based drinks have typically been the most popular and well-established categories for immune health claims. But more recently, Kefir – a cultured fermented beverage boasting three times more probiotics – has become another rising superstar. Since the start of lockdown, leading brands in both categories have reported sales uplifts of 47% - 188% on various product ranges. Many food and beverage companies have now taken the pro- and prebiotic craze a step further, by including them in sodas, shots, smoothies, cookies and snack bars.

Consumers’ quest for natural health-boosting ingredients is also driving the mainstreaming of products fortified with beta glucans. This compound found in shiitake mushrooms, baker’s yeast and grains like oat and barley has been shown to support immune health, particularly amongst children, athletes or older populations. Innovative manufacturers have already started using it to fortify baked goods, snacks and beverages and a recent report predicts that the market will grow to $815 million by 2026.

From functional shots to fruit pouches: Vive Organic and Charles & Alice

Back in 2015, Wyatt Taubmann was sick of being sick. But after feeling the effects of a homemade ginger shot, he became a big believer in the health-inducing powers of natural ingredients like turmeric and echinacea. Convinced he was onto something big, he teamed up with two friends and founded Vive Organic. From 2016 to 2017 sales grew eight-fold, leading the company to bag a cool $7 million in a series A funding round in 2018. Their clear immunity-boosting claims – featured pride of place on their packaging and website – have obviously resonated with health-hungry consumers. Vive has since become number one cold-pressed, immunity shots brand and recently launched two new products to expand their range into the active consumer category.

When looking to develop a new product for the US market, Charles & Alice’s marketing experts quickly recognised that parents weren’t only looking for natural and convenient options. They also craved products that actively boosted their children’s immune health. So they partnered with the Kerry Group to include “Wellmune”, a natural, clinically-tested beta glucan-based ingredient, and GanedenBC30, a natural probiotic, in two of their products, clearly communicating their immunity-boosting claims in marketing messages. Their Kids! Fruit Probiotics fruit pouches soon became a leader in refrigerated snack products in the US. Recognizing the opportunity posed by the pandemic, the company has recently launched the brand in Mexico.


Hope or hype? Let’s let science do the talking.

There’s no silver bullet when it comes to immune health. Of course, a balanced diet, packed with plenty of vitamins and minerals, will always give us a fighting chance of keeping fit. But experts agree that more research is needed when it comes to understanding the full range of factors that allow our immune systems to perform at an optimal level.

As increasingly health-savvy consumers continue to seek out new products to guide them towards their holy grail of wellbeing, it’s likely that evidence-based claims will become a key differentiating factor, helping to build consumer confidence and enabling brands to compete in an increasingly busy marketplace.


Business opportunities

  • Looking to refresh your post-corona menu? Consider including some popular immune-boosting ingredients in breakfast or buddha bowls or offer some add-ons – like ginger or echinacea - to give your juices or fruit and veg smoothies an extra nutrition boost

  • Interested in stocking more immunity-boosting products ? Try developing a dedicated immunity-boosting space on your shelves or experiment with integrating fortified items alongside their standard alternatives to help your customers discover new products that may better meet their needs.

Starting to get the sniffles? For decades, moms and grannies across the world have plied us with natural remedies – from orange juice to garlic – at the first signs of a cold.

Today, we’re taking a more proactive and prevention-oriented approach towards health and nutrition. In fact, one in three conversations about food focuses on the wellbeing benefits that specific products will offer us, leading experts to predict that the global functional foods market will reach $275 billion by 2025.

And boosting our immunity seems to be at the top of our health wish list. Food chatter around the term “immune system” has been increasing by 66% month over month for some time. But as the COVID-19 pandemic set in, products typically associated with strengthening natural defenses – like probiotic yoghurts or wellness shots – have experienced a surge in sales.  

But will interest die down as we flatten the curve? Or will immune system health products remain, as experts claim, a hyper-growth category for years to come?

Trend drivers: proactive, healthy convenience and new technologies

Millennials – as the most wellness-oriented generation yet – are unsurprisingly leading the immunity-boosting craze. For them, health is not just the absence of illness. It’s a daily commitment to better living – including optimal nutrition. But often, their busy lifestyles don’t make it easy for them to eat in line with these values. So functional foods are a quick and convenient compromise.

But the coronavirus pandemic has also highlighted the importance of investing in health across all generations. In uncertain times, when so many aspects of our daily lives feel out of our control, choosing fortified foods can give us a sense of comfort. They feel like a tangible way to proactively protect ourselves and our families.

Technical developments have also made it easier than ever for manufacturers to integrate immune health ingredients into their products. Supplements are now increasingly stable and their flavour more neutral, meaning that they can be used in a greater range of applications. This has helped to open up the market and enable products to make the leap from the health foods section to mainstream supermarket aisles.

Techie tips to spot and market ingredient trends

But only recognizing the trend itself won’t get food businesses very far. They need to know which specific benefits and ingredients their health-driven customers are looking for. So many companies are turning to the latest technologies for answers.

Tastewise - an Israeli AI-powered food intelligence start-up - analyzes data points from social media interactions, online recipes and restaurant menus to help companies to spot emerging ingredient trends. A recently launched report on the functional foods market recognized staggering growth in internet searches for immunity-related terms and namechecked elderberry, kiwi, beetroot and pickles as promising ingredient categories.

Spoon Guru – a UK-based food technology company – can also help food businesses apply this knowledge to inform their marketing strategies. Their recently launched “immunity support TAG” helps retailers introduce consumers to products that reflect their specific requirements and preferences – from online promotion and e-commerce personalisation to in-store placement. In terms of ingredient choices, they highlight the connection between gut health and immunity, indicating a growing focus on products rich in zinc, vitamin c, prebiotics, probiotics and antioxidants.

Popular products: Yoghurts, beverages and snacks

Probiotic yoghurt and yoghurt-based drinks have typically been the most popular and well-established categories for immune health claims. But more recently, Kefir – a cultured fermented beverage boasting three times more probiotics – has become another rising superstar. Since the start of lockdown, leading brands in both categories have reported sales uplifts of 47% - 188% on various product ranges. Many food and beverage companies have now taken the pro- and prebiotic craze a step further, by including them in sodas, shots, smoothies, cookies and snack bars.

Consumers’ quest for natural health-boosting ingredients is also driving the mainstreaming of products fortified with beta glucans. This compound found in shiitake mushrooms, baker’s yeast and grains like oat and barley has been shown to support immune health, particularly amongst children, athletes or older populations. Innovative manufacturers have already started using it to fortify baked goods, snacks and beverages and a recent report predicts that the market will grow to $815 million by 2026.

From functional shots to fruit pouches: Vive Organic and Charles & Alice

Back in 2015, Wyatt Taubmann was sick of being sick. But after feeling the effects of a homemade ginger shot, he became a big believer in the health-inducing powers of natural ingredients like turmeric and echinacea. Convinced he was onto something big, he teamed up with two friends and founded Vive Organic. From 2016 to 2017 sales grew eight-fold, leading the company to bag a cool $7 million in a series A funding round in 2018. Their clear immunity-boosting claims – featured pride of place on their packaging and website – have obviously resonated with health-hungry consumers. Vive has since become number one cold-pressed, immunity shots brand and recently launched two new products to expand their range into the active consumer category.

When looking to develop a new product for the US market, Charles & Alice’s marketing experts quickly recognised that parents weren’t only looking for natural and convenient options. They also craved products that actively boosted their children’s immune health. So they partnered with the Kerry Group to include “Wellmune”, a natural, clinically-tested beta glucan-based ingredient, and GanedenBC30, a natural probiotic, in two of their products, clearly communicating their immunity-boosting claims in marketing messages. Their Kids! Fruit Probiotics fruit pouches soon became a leader in refrigerated snack products in the US. Recognizing the opportunity posed by the pandemic, the company has recently launched the brand in Mexico.


Hope or hype? Let’s let science do the talking.

There’s no silver bullet when it comes to immune health. Of course, a balanced diet, packed with plenty of vitamins and minerals, will always give us a fighting chance of keeping fit. But experts agree that more research is needed when it comes to understanding the full range of factors that allow our immune systems to perform at an optimal level.

As increasingly health-savvy consumers continue to seek out new products to guide them towards their holy grail of wellbeing, it’s likely that evidence-based claims will become a key differentiating factor, helping to build consumer confidence and enabling brands to compete in an increasingly busy marketplace.


Business opportunities

  • Looking to refresh your post-corona menu? Consider including some popular immune-boosting ingredients in breakfast or buddha bowls or offer some add-ons – like ginger or echinacea - to give your juices or fruit and veg smoothies an extra nutrition boost

  • Interested in stocking more immunity-boosting products ? Try developing a dedicated immunity-boosting space on your shelves or experiment with integrating fortified items alongside their standard alternatives to help your customers discover new products that may better meet their needs.