By Alexandra Allan, The FoodBowl chief executive
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, food and beverage manufacturers and consumers alike are turning to functional food that supports immunity.
With the increase in incidences of pandemic and epidemic diseases worldwide, and evolving health and wellness trends, immunity is becoming a key area of focus, resulting in consumer interest in immunity-enhancing food and drinks.
In many parts of the world consumers take vitamins, minerals or supplements to improve immune function, but the growing trend is to have this all built into the foods and drinks you are consuming, so it becomes a stable, convenient part of your daily diet. Up until now it has been prominent in baby foods, dairy and juice drinks, but is now creeping into breakfast cereals, snacks, functional beverages and prepared meals.
Today, big brands dominate immunity-enhancing probiotics and prebiotics, they have been ahead of the game with patents and food technology capabilities. A good global example of the growing trend is Kellogg’s – their Special K Immune Support Multigrain Flakes, with Cherry, Dark Chocolate and Almonds is enriched with vitamins D, B6, B12 and folic acids and minerals (zinc, iron) that support normal function of the immune system.
Botanicals are the most frequent ingredients used in food and drink to support immune health followed by probiotics, fermented foods, prebiotics, fungi, insect/animal origin and then vitamins and minerals.
Bob Spencer, CEO of Pacific Flavours, confirmed the trend.
“There is a growing movement for transparency in all food and beverage products. Consumers want food that is close to nature, healthy and trustworthy, and with realistic case studies to support the claims which is leading to the rapid rise of clean label solutions. Demand for botanical extracts is experiencing huge AGR of 200% year on year for Pacific. The driver is that consumers are relating extracts as being closer to nature, and once you add traceability as we have done with our provenance range, we start meeting the needs of consumers more closely.”
The recent scientific developments in the field of botanicals to improve immune health have created an opportunity for major brands, as well as start-ups to launch products containing these ingredients and we are seeing innovative new products entering the market monthly. One of our successful local clients is LiveBrew Ltd with ‘LiveBrew’, a fresh, live and active probiotic drink containing very high numbers of living microbes and their beneficial metabolites. Probiotics can have positive effects on everything from mood and anxiety, chronic disease and skin health, to acute and chronic gut issues.
A huge market opportunity is in aged care. Like other body functions, the immune system tends to get weaker with age, causing increased susceptibility to infections. In addition to ageing, metabolic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease are also reasons for weakened immune function. As our population is aging both in New Zealand and internationally, plus a rise in diabetes in one in five adults over the age of 65, developing products with specialised nutrition for these groups of individuals to improve their body’s self-defense mechanism is an opportunity waiting to happen!
Alexandra Allan is the chief executive for The FoodBowl – an open access facility operated by NZ Food Innovation Auckland and part of the NZ Food Innovation Network. She has experience in managing client projects as well as oversight on plant operations previously as the client solutions manager for The FoodBowl. Prior to that, Allan has held senior positions at Danone and Horley’s in product development.