Many brands are responding to the pandemic by cutting back costs in innovation and marketing but any brand with products in immunity should use this time to get ahead of the surging competition, according to Andy Wardlaw, chief ideas officer for MMR Research.
“Situations such as this can be hugely significant for new ideas and innovation," he pointed out during a recent immunity-focused MMR webinar.
"I think this is the world's biggest ever advertising campaign, bar none. The message is ‘ we are all more vulnerable than we thought’.
"For immunity, the tectonic plates are shifting massively and for those who are bold, this creates the opportunity for new innovation streams. My advice is to start moving now and don’t let your competition get ahead.
“Consider the trade off that consumers make when making purchasing decisions, whether that be between taste and efficacy or science and nature and question how this is likely to evolve. Because I can be pretty sure that the equilibriums are shifting more towards science and efficacy away from nature and taste."
Even before COVID-19, immunity was rising up the list of consumer priorities. Last year the Kerry Group reported that nearly two thirds of the population across 14 countries prioritised immunity, ahead of heart, brain and gut health.
And in MMR's more recent research, which gathered data from nearly 5,000 consumers across the US, UK, China and SA, found that when given the choice of eight competing health conditions, immunity was always chosen as the number one or two priority in every country, with a whopping 34% of the Chinese participants choosing immunity as their top priority.
Turn trial into adoption
“I would suggest you think of immunity as a growing demand space," continues Wardlaw. "Start mining answer to questions such as 'when are consumer most concerned about their immunity?' We know breakfast is currently a dominant occasion when people are most likely to act in the interest of their health.
"But I would suggest, post COVID-19, people will want to top up their feeling of immunity and robustness throughout the day which may mean it will become a more important factor in categories later in the day - such as snacking."
In fact, Wardlaw argues snacking could become of the most important arenas for immunity innovation going forward - as people seek to top up on the go - potentially creating an opportunity for the sports nutrition industry.
"The protein bar sector may benefit from fortification with immunity supporting ingredients. These brands may have to step out of the comforting flavours of chocolate, banana and vanilla in order to more harder edged, zesty additions.”
From MMR’s research of the products currently on the global market, Wardlaw suggests many immunity focused food and drink products could do more to reassure the consumers of the health benefits it promises right at the time of consumption. And he says this is important, not only because it leads to repeat purchase, but also because its another way to help differentiate a product in an increasingly competitive environment.
“With the regulatory framework around claims being so tight, it is important for products in the immunity space to unlock all aspects of communication to drive home the product benefit.
"You have an opportunity to be more convincing with more deliberate sensory construction to create efficacy that is really felt, that turns trial into adoption. As we move into a more competitive world, the smallest detail can have a massive impact on the consumer appraisal of your product."
MMR's Sensory Playbook
Alice Barker, MMR's Sensory Qual Research Manager, says a wide range of emotionally charged language is used to communicate immunity benefits in food and drink packaging and this language has to be chosen carefully according to the category.
"Using the term ‘boosting’ may work well for a juice but not so much for something like a yogurt, where ‘soothing’ and ‘supporting’ is more appropriate. This is because the words should match with the expected sensory experience."
She adds that a wide range of ingredients are being added and called out on pack by immunity product makers, whether that be ginger, citrus fruits, berries, turmeric, beta-glucans, and vitamins but it's important that the flavour profile matches up with the ingredients called out on pack.
“Providing the real flavours of ingredients is really important. For example, the acidity provided by lemon or the warmth of the ginger can real help dial up the perception of efficacy.
“Getting mouthfeel and texture right is also really important. A general trend I have seen is a product that is too thick or gloopy, is often associated with a heavily processed product which takes away from the perception of health. But a product that is too thin can be associated with having a lack of nutrients. So there’s a middle ground in which to play.”
Whether looking to develop a new product or improve an existing one, Barker says key questions to be mindful of include: Will there be more demand for strong efficacy cues over taste in this category during and after this pandemic? Do emotionally charged words around immunity claims resonate with target audience and match with usage occasions? Are ingredients called-out on pack linked to immunity claims? Does you pack reinforce immunity cues and help the product stand out from the crowd? Does the sensory delivery of the product cue efficacy?