Immune health has come into sharp focus for consumers in the past two years, with more shoppers increasingly proactive and adopting healthier, immune system–friendly lifestyles. September 2020 data from market researcher FMCG Gurus showed that 66% of global consumers were looking for immune health supplements, and 81% of consumers were willing to spend more money on immune support supplements.1 It’s a good bet that these consumers will also appreciate convenient, personalized solutions that can support their overall wellness.
Products like immune health powders and supplements offer advantages to both consumers and formulators: Powders undergo little degradation over time, require very few additives, and are capable of holding a higher volume of the active ingredient than other formats. Meanwhile, supplement formats like tablets, capsules, and gummies are convenient delivery systems that consumers are familiar with and readily accept.
As the immune health market expands, formulators are capitalizing on these formats and finding ways to incorporate other functional benefits in a single product. Here are some of the ways that “immune plus” formulations are evolving.
Probiotics and Fibers Add Gut Benefits to Immunity Products
Probiotics, postbiotics, and dietary fiber have a long history as effective gut health and metabolic health ingredients. Now, formulators are adding these gut-boosters into immune health products to capitalize on the connection between the gut and the immune system.
June Lin, vice president of global marketing for health and wellness at ADM (Chicago), says consumer awareness of the link between gut health and immune health is growing, which is why adding probiotics and dietary fibers to immune formulations is a winning move.
“These ingredients can support digestive health and weight management, but consumers are also associating them with immune support,” Lin says. “Of the 87% of U.S. consumers interested in immune support supplements, 78% are specifically interested in probiotics.”
Lin says ingredients like L. rhamnosus and B. animalis subsp. lactis have been found in preclinical studies to exert anti-inflammatory effects, promote gut barrier integrity, and modulate metabolic health markers. Meanwhile, ADM and Matsutani LLC’s branded Fibersol line of soluble dietary fibers promotes the growth of beneficial microbes that help maintain digestive health.
Formulating with these combination ingredients, however, can be tricky. “Newer formats like drops and bars are becoming more prominent in the marketplace, but these formats can be subject to harsh formulation processes like high heat,” Lin explains. “This is particularly important for formulators to be aware of when working with sensitive solutions and combining distinct ingredients in fortified offerings.”
Immune Products Aid Sleep and Energy
Some of the other emerging combination immune products involve blends of ingredients that also promote sleep health or boost energy. Ram Nimmagudda, senior advisor of bioactive product technology at Glanbia Nutritionals (Chicago), says these types of blends are easily achievable.
“Immune choices often include vitamin C along with zinc, elderberry, ashwagandha, and curcumin,” Nimmagudda says. “For applications like energy, focus, or sleep, common choices are ashwagandha, vitamin B1, and probiotics.”
Various brands are offering a wide array of immune-sleep and immune-energy products. For example, Olly (San Francisco) offers a branded Immunity Sleep gummy containing melatonin, echinacea, zinc, and vitamin C. Meanwhile, Nature’s Way (Springville, UT) sells its branded Sambucus Sleep + Immune gummies containing melatonin, Suntheanine-brand L-theanine, vitamin C, Sambucus nigra L. extract, lemon balm, and passionflower.
Blending immune health ingredients with ingredients for other applications may present some challenges regarding taste, stability, or solubility, Nimmagudda says. That’s why formulators must pay special attention during processing to ensure that any functional restrictions are adhered to.
Adaptogenic Blends Promote Stress Relief
One rapidly growing area of focus for formulators is immune products that also offer mental wellness benefits. Sandra Carter, MA, MPH, PhD, is the co-founder of Om Mushroom Superfood (Carlsbad, CA). Carter says consumers are increasingly looking for products that can improve their health in multiple ways—and stress relief is one area of natural overlap with immune health.
“Stress has negative effects on immune function,” Carter says. “Reishi is a mushroom that is also an adaptogen, so many consumers reach for reishi to help manage stress.”
Om’s immune health line includes its Immune powder and capsules, which contain reishi, turkey tail, Agaricus blazei, and maitake mushrooms. The immune health benefits of whole mushrooms are derived from beta- and alpha-glucans, which help create a healthy microbiome, Carter explains.
When formulating these products, the trick to achieving an efficacious dose is thorough research on each individual ingredient. Om’s dosages start at 1500 mg of active ingredient per serving in every product, she says.
“For some ingredients, there are published daily values, which helps to give consumers confidence in the formulas they’re purchasing,” she explains. “For other ingredients, like many botanicals or mushrooms, there are no daily values established, so it’s important to formulate with a sufficient dosage established by research so consumers benefit from the product.”
While these ingredients may be effective, formulators still need to develop a product with a convenient delivery system. Consumers won’t use a product that is too difficult to consume or that takes too much time to prepare.
“The most significant challenge is formulating products that can be easily included in your everyday routine,” Carter notes. “Immune health is something that should be considered throughout the year, not just during cold and flu season. Our mushrooms are considered tonics, which means they work best when taken on a daily basis.”
Immune-Plus Supplements and Powders Offer Convenience
Lin says consumers are looking for convenient products that can meet several wellness goals. While immune health is a significant priority for health-conscious consumers, these consumers are also looking for tailored solutions that can meet multiple health needs. Immune-plus formulations offer brands an opportunity to capitalize on consumer interest in immune health and strategically differentiate their products. Brands that can create effective, multifunctional immune-plus supplements and powders with a great taste profile will find an enthusiastic audience.