With the globe entering its ninth month of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers are increasingly focused on ways to boost their immunity.

Innova Market Insights has made this inclination one of its top trends for 2021, calling it “In Tune with Immune.” The market research firm says health and immunity will remain “top of mind” for consumers as concerns over COVID-19 extend into next year.

“Ongoing anxiety stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to push consumers toward prioritizing their immune health,” said Lu Ann Williams, insights global director at Innova Market Insights. “Immunity boosting ingredients will play a significant role for the coming year, while research and interest in the role of the microbiome and personalized nutrition as ways to strengthen immunity will accelerate.”

Citing its Consumer Survey 2020, Innova reports 6 out of 10 global consumers are seeking food and beverage products that support their immune health, with 1 in 3 saying concerns over immune health have increased this year over last year. 

Innova also noted that 54 percent of global consumers said they’ve spent time educating themselves on ingredients and practices that could boost their immune health. When asked what would be most important for achieving immune health, choosing foods naturally high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants — particularly through botanical ingredients — was among the Top 3. Also prominent was getting enough sleep and being physically healthy. 

Furthermore, Innova says positioning food and beverage products as beneficial for immune health has increased, with 1.65 percent of global launches over the first 10 months of 2020 using this type of claim, up from 1 percent five years previously. Among the categories with products featuring immunity boosting or support claims are baby and toddler products (milks and formulas), sports nutrition (sports powders) and dairy products (drinking yogurt/fermented beverages).

Innova also pointed to a strengthening link between probiotics/prebiotics, gut health and immune support. Consumer awareness of probiotics is still growing, with its relationship to gut health and a strong immune system gaining recognition.

The research firm says prebiotics have been slower to reach consumer consciousness. Though they have been available for years, it is only recently that they have become mainstream. Innova reports 20 percent global growth for food and beverage launches with prebiotics in 2018 over 2017 and a further increase of more than 13 percent for 2019. Often used with probiotics, prebiotics are being featured in food and drink launches, led by baby and toddler products, soft drinks and dairy products.

The growing concern over immune health presents a major opportunity for confectionery manufacturers. Those working with chocolate have a leg up, given cocoa’s flavanol content. Flavanols are said to improve cardiovascular health and cognitive activity, as well as fight cell damage.

Combined with ingredients such as orange, elderberry, honey, ginger or turmeric, chocolate makers can play on consumers’ desire for products that promote immune health naturally. Similar opportunities exist for sugar confectionery, such as gummies and hard candy, since these confectionery applications are already being used as health supplements.

Much has changed since the start of the pandemic, and the level of illness and loss has been staggering, but if the silver lining is that consumers are more focused on their health and how to maintain it going forward, then that at least is positive.