The need for immune-supporting functional food and beverage products is clear. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers are searching for products that support immunity and fit in with their lifestyles. The question for manufacturers is how to meet demand. In postbiotics, the food and beverage industry has a clinically validated, easy-to-work-with answer.
Better immunity was a top priority for many consumers even before the pandemic, with a 2019 survey finding it came second after general health and wellness on a list of desired health benefits.1 COVID-19 further emphasized the importance of immunity to consumers. The near-term effect was a 70% increase in sales of immunity products.2 The long-term impact is a lasting shift in the attitudes of consumers.
One study found 64% of global consumers became more conscious about their immune health because of COVID-19.3 Increased awareness of the importance of immune health is translating into action. More than two-thirds of global consumers have changed their diets to address their immune health. A similar proportion of consumers are interested in food and drink products that promote immune health and will buy them even if they do not have specific health problems.
Improving immune health via the gut
Recognition of the importance of immune health has increased in parallel to the emergence of a better understanding of the factors that influence immunity. Notably, consumers now see the links between gut health and immunity. A global survey found more than 80% of people think good gut health can cut their chances of becoming ill.4 The same poll saw a rise in the importance of healthy digestion to consumers.
Several types of ingredients can cater to the demand for products that support immune health via the gut. Probiotics are currently the best known of the ingredients, but the fact they are live microorganisms limits shelf life and prevents them from being incorporated into some formulations altogether. Prebiotics overcome those limitations by providing substrates that encourage the growth of certain microorganisms that are already in the gut.
Postbiotics consist of inanimate microorganisms or their cellular components and metabolites. Interest in postbiotics has increased as researchers have shown the positive effects of probiotics can be achieved without live microorganisms, thereby opening up opportunities to support gut health and immunity with a wider range of foods and beverages.5
As postbiotics eliminate survivability concerns associated with live microorganisms, manufacturers can subject them to heat, low pH and other harsh conditions during the production process. The resilience is particularly valuable to beverage companies, which can use postbiotics to meet demand for drinks with immune-supporting ingredients in the sports nutrition sector and the broader immunity market. Such drinks form part of the growing functional beverage market, which was worth $102 billion in 2020.6
Driving growth with clinical validation
The potential of postbiotic-enhanced function food and beverage products is illustrated by the clinical and commercial success of LAC-Shield, a heat-killed form of Lactobacillus paracasei MCC1849. Morinaga Milk Industry selected LAC-Shield because of its ability to induce production of an activator of innate and adaptive immunity, namely interleukin-12.
Researchers have assessed the effect of LAC-Shield on the common cold. In a clinical trial of 241 healthy adult women, Morinaga researchers linked daily use of LAC-Shield for 12 weeks to a significant reduction in the number of days of symptoms and symptom scores of subjects who had suffered from the common cold in the previous year.7 The study also generated evidence that LAC-Shield helps maintain a desirable mood state.
In another clinical trial, Morinaga researchers found seniors who took LAC-Shield mounted a stronger immune response to the influenza vaccine than their peers who received placebo.8 Antibody production after vaccination was higher in the LAC-Shield group.
The clinical results have supported strong uptake of LAC-Shield in Japan, Morinaga’s home market. After multiple years of growth, LAC-Shield is used by more than 450 companies in more than 1,000 products in Japan. The products include foods such as nutritional bars, cereals, baked goods and confectionery, as well as beverages including bottled waters, energy drinks, juices and powdered drinks such as cocoa. Manufacturers in other parts of Asia Pacific are also using LAC-Shield in their products.
By incorporating LAC-Shield into their foods and beverages, manufacturers are building on years of work by Morinaga to develop the postbiotic and validate its effects in the clinical studies. The value of that work has become clear in recent years, as, spurred by the pandemic, consumers have sought out ingredients such as LAC-Shield that support immunity.
1. Innova Market Insights.
2. Runestad, T. Post-pandemic perspectives on immune-health products. (2021).
3. FMCG gurus: What’s Next for Immune Health in 2021? FMCG Gurus (2021).
4. New study finds consumer interest, demand for products that support the immune system increased since pandemic began.
5. Vallejo-Cordoba, B., Castro-López, C., García, H. S., González-Córdova, A. F. & Hernández-Mendoza, A. Chapter One - Postbiotics and paraprobiotics: A review of current evidence and emerging trends. in Advances in Food and Nutrition Research (eds. da Cruz, A. G., Prudencio, E. S., Esmerino, E. A. & da Silva, M. C.) vol. 94 1–34 (Academic Press, 2020).
6. Hancocks, N. Functional beverages: How to stay immune to the competition. nutraingredients.com (2021).
7. Murata, M. et al. Effects of paraprobiotic Lactobacillus paracasei MCC1849 supplementation on symptoms of the common cold and mood states in healthy adults. Benef. Microbes 9, 855–864 (2018).
8. Maruyama, M. et al. The effects of non-viable Lactobacillus on immune function in the elderly: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Int. J. Food Sci. Nutr. 67, 67–73 (2016).