FROM food and drink products to ingredients and even condiments and other cooking essentials, more consumers are seeking options to boost or support immunity. The same trend is fuelling the shift to natural products and ingredients and even home-grown foods and home-cooked meals. On the part of manufacturers, a growing number of companies and brands are investing in heathier products, recalibrating their product lines altogether or just broadening their portfolio with healthier alternatives.
Health and wellness and value rose in terms of priority amongst consumers during the pandemic, according to a September 2020 study by Mintel on how COVID-19 disrupted food and drink priorities. These two factors had almost the same priority ranking as convenience pre-COVID. In the past year, trust and safety likewise climbed up the priority ladder, particularly among millennials, which are considered the most conscious group.
“Brands must be aware of these shifts in consumer priorities,” according to Jie Ying Lee, senior strategic marketing manager for Beverages at Kerry Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa.
In beverage products, for example, Lee noted the shift in emphasis from performance benefits among brands before the pandemic to a focus on immune system benefits at present. Whereas health drinks used to highlight the benefits of hydration, calorie control, increased energy and productivity and even clearer skin, products in the category now emphasise immunity in their marketing efforts.
“Today’s consumers want better taste and a more authentic, natural and local experience. But they also look for enhanced nutrition for better health and overall well-being. In addition, they want convenient and affordable options to match their on-the-go lifestyle,” Lee added.
Natural immunity-enhancing products top priority
Kerry's Global Consumer Study on digestive and immune health reveals immune system support drives Asian consumers' purchasing decisions for healthy lifestyle products, with 66% of consumers buying more fortified F&B products since COVID-19. Healthy bones and joints, good digestive health, improved energy and heart health round up the top five reasons of consumers.
Between January and May this year, immune health moved up to top 2 of active claims in F&B new product development from its rank 4 in the last three years, reflecting manufacturers' growing focus on immune health in F&B products.
Kerry, a world leader in taste and nutrition for the food and beverage industry, tackles the growing global demand for products that boost immunity with Wellmune®, a natural food, beverage and supplement ingredient clinically proven to help strengthen the immune system.
Kerry’s Wellmune® is a proprietary baker’s yeast beta 1, 3/1,6 glucan that helps maintain overall physical health, protect against the harmful effects of stress, and promote healthy energy levels and mental clarity.
With Wellmune®, manufacturers can differentiate themselves in the increasingly crowded space of immune health, with its science-backed attributes and performance, Lee said. It can be incorporated into a wide variety of beverage formats, from RTDs, enhanced waters and sports and energy drinks to powdered sachets, dairy-based drinks, juices and smoothies.
Uniquely positioned at the intersection of taste and nutrition, Kerry leverages its 40 years of experience, extensive technology portfolio and world-class science to drive sustainable nutrition for its customers and end-users in the 150+ countries it actively services through products such as Wellmune®. The company remains in sync with the globalisation of food tastes and evolving market and consumer needs amid changing lifestyles to be able to develop and provide safe, high-quality nutritious F&B products that taste better and are more authentic and sustainable to inspire food and nourish life, respectively, in line with its slogan. “Our food heritage has kept us focused on sustainability solutions that shape the future of food,” Lee said.
The right immune-support mix
Designed for functional foods, beverages and supplements to provide immunity benefits, Wellmune® is extracted from the cell wall of a Kerry proprietary strain of baker’s yeast using Kerry’s proprietary process. This gluten-free and highly purified ingredient is available in soluble and dispersible powder formats, the former for use in food and select beverage applications and the latter for certain beverage applications with clarity or other manufacturing requirements.
Wellmune®s flexibility allows manufacturers to use it as a standalone functional ingredient for immune health or with other benefit-driven ingredients to form multifunction products. Manufacturers can combine it with other ingredients such as protein or probiotics to offer products with added value in a single form factor.
Wellmune® is highly stable, natural and safe for everyday consumption. It is also non-allergenic, meets Halal and Kosher requirements, non-GMO and organic-compliant.
“An ideal ingredient for virtually any food, beverage and supplement product, Wellmune® is currently available in hundreds of products in the broad categories of supplements, milk formula, foods and beverages, and even food service and convenience stores in more than 60 countries around the world,” said Genny Tan, business development manager, Applied Health & Nutrition, Kerry Asia Pacific & Southeast Asia. Specifically, Wellmune®’s growing range of applications cover infant and growing up milk, healthcare nutrition, performance nutrition, weight management, dairy, beverages, snacks, bakery and cereals, and prepared snacks.
When absorbed by the body, Wellmune® primes the neutrophils, which make up 50% to 60% of white blood cells and are the body’s first line of defence, allowing them to move quickly to recognise and fight foreign challenges, Tan explained.
(From left) Genny Tan, business development manager, Applied Health & Nutrition, Kerry Asia Pacific & Southeast Asia, and Jie Ying Lee, senior strategic marketing manager for Beverages at Kerry Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa
“More than a dozen clinical studies demonstrate Wellmune®’s ability to support the immune system. It has a clear known mechanism of action, which allows manufacturers to clearly communicate how the molecule works in the body. And because it is delivered in a powder format, it can be used in all types of applications, whether solid, liquid, beverage, heat-treated or not. In terms of stability, we do have stability tests to demonstrate that it doesn't degrade during the heat process. It doesn't impact the taste, texture or appearance of the product. There lies the beauty of Wellmune® – manufacturers can easily formulate and integrate it into the product without affecting the taste profile,” added Tan.
Wellmune® has a shelf life of five years from the date of manufacture. Besides being patented, it has regulatory approval in major markets around the world, including GRAS status in the U.S., novel food approval in Europe and China and health claim approval in Malaysia.
“In an increasingly competitive market, Wellmune® allows manufacturers to differentiate their products not just with innovative features, profile attributes and applications. Wellmune® is a patented and award-winning global brand that’s backed by science, helping build manufacturers’ credibility amongst their customers,” Tan shared.
Immune health leads product development
Products with immunity benefits are projected to continue driving new product development in ASEAN, followed by those that improve gut or digestive health and help with hydration/rehydration. Kerry’s Future of Food Insight Study points to three major trends – feeding the mind, redefining value, and health and wellness – all of which are linked to boosting immunity, which is propelling the market in Southeast Asia.
According to Lee, the feed the mind trend stems from the rising attention to mental and emotional health, with consumers identifying happiness and comfort over mood, and relaxation and clear thinking as important aspects of F&B and three in every four consumers saying good mental health is linked to a strong immune system.
Lee said that today's consumers seek information and educate themselves about products in relation to elevating their daily life. Product value is increasingly defined by tangible and measurable benefits, which is why effectivity, affordability and convenience are the other measures consumers turn to in defining value.
As for the health and wellness trend, consumers are willing to purchase products that boost their immunity even when not suffering from specific health problems. More than 60% of consumers in study are likely to seek out F&B products that boost immune health whilst about 70% admit they would prefer to consume immune-supporting foods and beverages instead of supplements.
Tan shared: “Health and wellness has always been a macro trend in the F&B sector. So, in a sense, we’re not talking here about revolution but an evolution of the trend, which has been accelerated by the pandemic. But whilst immune health has always been one of the most desired benefits by consumers globally, it is hard to demonstrate and measure so it’s been a challenge for the industry to capitalise on it.”
Today’s consumers are looking for immune health benefits in day-to-day products to optimise immune health benefits on a day-to-day basis, Tan said. This is why, more manufacturers of general F&B products are expanding into products with immune health benefits, the same reason immune health benefits are no longer limited to supplements and milk formulae applications.
Kerry works with F&B companies around the world – collaborations with customers of all sizes now exceeding 16,000 – from ideation, R&D, testing and recipe fine tuning through production to address evolving market needs and consumer demands whilst factoring in sustainability, regulations and new technologies. With 151 manufacturing locations across 32 countries, technology and innovation centres around the world, 26,000+ employees worldwide, including 1,000+ scientists, as well as flavourists, chefs and baristas, and market researchers, Kerry combines its deep understanding of the market, science, research and technology, and expertise in product development and manufacturing to work with F&B companies to create commercially viable products that are also sustainable and healthy. Of the company’s more than 18,000 products, over 80 percent deliver positive and balanced nutrition.
“With the market moving at great speed, Kerry can help F&B manufacturers stay ahead of trends with our proprietary 360-degree approach using market intelligence, customer industry intelligence, experiential insights and our proprietary studies combined with proprietary tools and resources that help us monitor and assess trends and developments in the market. We can work with customers to come up with concepts that will help them be ahead of the pack,” Lee said.
“In Asia, where many consumers rely on traditional ingredients and food perceived to have health benefits, we see a huge opportunity in going back to using traditional ingredients and combining those with Wellmune® and anchoring the formulation on science-backed ingredients. This will parallel the growing need for a more holistic approach to meeting consumers’ need for a multidimensional product that is healthy for users physically, mentally and even emotionally. This way, we enable manufacturers to deliver to the consumer a product that is not only perceived as being healthy but is actually healthy,” Tan shared.
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