Brands weigh in on launching immune support in crowded space

By Danielle Masterson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images / Tero Vesalainen
Getty Images / Tero Vesalainen

Related tags: immune supplements, Immunity, elderberry

They were already gaining traction pre-pandemic, and now, products in the immune support category are continuing to pop up everywhere—from elderberry water to CBD gummies to dairy-based probiotics. We spoke with a few brands who launched their own immune support products and they shared how they elevated their offerings in the increasingly saturated market.

Last fall, SmartyPants introduced a new functionals line that includes Healthy Immunity Daytime, Healthy Immunity Nighttime, and Healthy Kids Immunity. 

“It’s such a crowded category,” ​lamented Courtney Nichols Gould, co-CEO SmartyPants.  “And we always promised ourselves we would never make a ‘me too’ product. We want to add a product to the shelf and only release it if we truly believe our solution is better or unique in a way that solves a real problem for people. When it comes to our immunity products specifically, it was all about looking at a more nutrient dense solution matched with our purpose-led approach.”

Gould shared that the multivitamin category is up +23% YoY (in the last 52 weeks ending 2/21/21) and during the same time frame, supplement product with immunity claims are up 30%—even more than the multivitamin category.

Ingredient firm ADM named health and immunity among its top five global food and beverage trends for 2021. Their research found that over 30% of consumers are buying more products tailored to their health, and 50% prefer foods and beverages that naturally contain beneficial ingredients.

Competitive opportunity 

“The desire to influence health and wellness through foods and beverages is creating new opportunities for nutrient-dense products with functional health benefits aimed at supporting immune systems,”​ said ADM.

Plexus also recognized opportunity and launched its newest immune support offering, Plexus Immune Plus last month.

“With the heightened demand for immune products it is important to differentiate with a unique combination of ingredients. For example, elderberry is on trend but can be found in numerous products,” ​explained Michael Hartman, PhD, VP of Research and Development at Plexus Worldwide. “Our approach was to identify what makes elderberry effective (anthocyanidin content) and then select a unique ingredient as an alternative source. In our product, black rice extract is a source of anthocyanidins, specifically cyanidine-3-glucoside, that provides the immune boosting benefit and also antioxidant support to help terminate free-radicals."

Caroline Beckman, CEO Nouri, said the future of immune support is in the gut since that’s where 70% of the immune system is located. 

Unique and scientifically-sound offerings are a must to compete in this category. Nouri has found a competitive opportunity with our innovation combining leading wellness trends (e.g. plant-based, sugar-free, calorie-free, clean label) with advancement in microbiome health (prebiotics, probiotics, and novel immunobiotics),”​ explained Beckman, who added that she’s encouraged to see progress in education and adoption of effective gut health solutions.

For Lindsey Christianson, size is everything. Christianson, who founded Elderberry Queen in 2018, said more and more products are coming to market, especially in the last six months. “That being said, we were and still are unique in that we provide organic elderberry syrup that has the largest bottle sizes (which is more convenient for large families) and also have the best price per fl/oz than any other organic brand. We have to continue to educate people in valuing their health and immune systems.”

And that education comes with answering lots of questions from curious consumers.

Immunoinquiries 

As interest in immune health products accelerates, more products are flooding the market and consumers have questions.

“The most frequently asked question that we are hearing is how to couple immunity products with existing multivitamin regimens. This is good news for the category. Consumers are now looking to add immunity products to their lives, but it is not an either or. They still want a multivitamin also. They are just looking for a little added protection and peace of mind in addition to what they are already doing and are willing to pay extra/buy an additional product,”​ observed Gould.

Charlotte Trass, Direction for Education for New Chapter, echoed a similar sentiment. 

“When it comes to immune health, people generally want to know if products can be paired and taken together. At New Chapter, many of our formulas are designed to be able to be taken together, and we’re delighted to support our customer’s immune health through different pathways of nutrition,”​ said Trass. The company recently added four new products to their elderberry line. 

With so many options, consumers can be overwhelmed. A common challenge for many manufacturers is reaching consumers with information that they can easily digest.

“Consumers are asking great questions about the difference between prebiotics, probiotics and immunobiotics (or “postbiotics”). Consumers want to know functionally what each ingredient does for them. For example, how does a probiotic support both their digestive system and their immune system? Which probiotics are the best for immune health? And, of course, what products are the most functionally convenient?”​ explained Beckman.

The pandemic has ushered in a lot of first-time supplement users and brands have had to adjust to answering questions from novice consumers, on top of regular users who may be seeking unique ingredients to meet their needs.

“A common question has been around use of basic vitamins and minerals to support immune health,” ​said Hartman. “With our product we wanted to provide benefits beyond just a multi-vitamin/mineral (MVM) product. MVM is an effective way to fill nutritional gaps but we highlight the importance of unique, diverse nutrients that may not normally be part of your diet. Using botanical ingredients, such as andrographis, that the average US consumer may not be aware of or have access to helped to accomplish this approach.”

Demand for immune support rages on 

“Covid has made a lasting impact on American consumers,”​ said Gould, who added that health and wellbeing will be a focus for consumers coming out of the pandemic. 

“IRI consumer panels suggest 27% of consumers will focus more on health in the future as a result of the pandemic and 17% of consumers say they will buy more products that support immunity as a result of the pandemic,”​ Gould said.

ResearchAndMarkets.com said clinically proven formulas and scientific research will be the major differentiating factors—and companies that put science will be key in standing out in the crowded category.

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