Immune health should be an easy sell, but convincing consumers to invest in products that support the immune system on a regular basis hasn’t typically been easy. Why? Most people don’t think about immune function on a day-to-day basis and only seek treatments either when they get sick or during the typical cold and flu season.
Getting consumers to routinely purchase dietary supplements, foods, and beverages that support immune health is a challenge that those in the business continue to face. “Most [consumers] do not understand that their immune system is constantly being attacked and weakened by stressors both inside and outside the body,” says Doug Reyes, sales and marketing manager for Embria Health Sciences (Ankeny, IA), which supplies the branded immune-health ingredient EpiCor. Reyes says it is up to his company and others to educate consumers about the need for year-round immune-health support through diet, exercise, lifestyle choices, and fortified supplements, foods, and beverages.
According to Reyes, the message for long-term support is gradually getting across. “It is a very slow process, but we are seeing that consumers are beginning to be more preventative than reactive when it comes to their immune health,” he says.
While everyone, young and old, can benefit from stronger immunity, there are some key shopper types with whom an immune-health message is likely to resonate. Some of these consumer categories may seem obvious, while others represent emerging market opportunities.
If you’re an immune-health product marketer, your first stop should be parents. For busy parents, the delicate harmony of work, childcare, and everything in between can be brought to a crashing halt by one bout of cold or flu in a child—or, even worse, in the whole family. Keeping the family well is priority one for moms and dads.
Mike Bush, president of probiotics supplier Ganeden (Cleveland, OH), says that in a survey of 1000 LOHAS consumers his company conducted in 2015, “we found that the immune buyers, the people who are specifically looking for immune products, were in one of two groups: 1) parents, and 2) folks who are either baby boomers or immunocompromised people. But the lion’s share of the immune buyer is the parent buyer.”
In the Ganeden survey, 86% of respondents with children said they would be more likely to purchase a product if it contained a probiotic ingredient. Ganeden’s Ganeden BC30 probiotic strain (Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086) has been studied for immune- and digestive-health benefits, among others.
Some of those interviewed for this story even go so far as to peg mothers as the primary purchaser of immune-health products. “Female family members are key,” says Simon Seward, global business director for NutraQ, supplier of branded immune-health ingredient Nutramunity. “Mums have a tendency to buy for kids and male family members.”
Sports Nutrition Opening Doors
Moms may be an obvious first target, but after the parent contingent, where next should immune-health marketers look? After all, while parents are likely to embrace the immune-health message head-on, immune health is not necessarily top of mind among other consumers. In an effort to reach these consumers, marketers are hitching immune-health messaging to other supplement categories, and according to nearly everyone interviewed for this story, sports nutrition is the best bet.
“Sports nutrition is the most promising complementary category for immune health,” says Rod Benjamin, director of R&D and technical services for Bergstrom Nutrition (Vancouver, WA), supplier of the OptiMSM brand of methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). “Not only does this group represent a consumer base that is focused on nutrition; they hold a well-documented concern that needs to be addressed.” That concern is over the fact that high-intensity athletic activity has been proven to strain and stress the immune system and subsequently compromise immune function. Athletes, or even “weekend warriors” who do not want to derail their exercise regimens by getting sick, are likely to embrace the concept of shoring up their immune health.
“When athletes work out or compete, it puts stress on the body in a number of different ways, which can lead to a reduction in immune-system function,” says Bruce Abedon, PhD, vice president of scientific affairs for NutraGenesis LLC (Brattleboro, VT). The MaitakeGold 404 ingredient his company provides is a patented extract of maitake mushroom fruit body containing 1,3-1,6 beta-glucans, which Abedon says “target receptors on immune-cell membranes to help support their function and provide beneficial immune-modulation activity.” MaitakeGold 404, he says, enables “sports-performance enthusiasts [to] help maintain healthy immune function both in and out of the gym.”
By courting sports-nutrition customers, immune-health marketers may even reach previously unreachable customers, such as men. “The busiest male buyers tend to buy sports nutrition with immunity as an added-value product benefit,” says NutraQ’s Seward. His company’s Nutramunity beta-1,3/1,6-glucan from baker’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) is marketed to the sports crowd under the name NBG Sport.
More suppliers are devoting resources to studying how their immune-health ingredients benefit athletic populations. Recently, Bergstrom Nutrition announced the published results of a 40-subject study1 it sponsored in which researchers concluded that 3 g of OptiMSM, when taken during intense exercise, can help reduce the impact of suppressed immune function that occurs after exercise, “allowing cells to still have the capacity to mount an appropriate response to an additional stimulus after exercise.”
Wellmune, also a beta-1,3/1,6-glucan ingredient, derived from the cell wall of a proprietary strain of baker’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), is another immune-health ingredient that studies have shown specifically benefits athletes. Kerry Group (Tralee, Ireland) acquired the immune-health branded ingredient Wellmune last year. One of Wellmune’s most recent studies in athletes was a 2013 study2 in which researchers concluded that athletes who supplemented with Wellmune reduced the number of cold/flu days they experienced after intense exercise. Recently, the company even extended its research to “everyday” consumers—that is, individuals not necessarily performing up to the high intensity of trained athletes but who nevertheless exercise and may still experience compromised immune health as a result. Last year, the company presented data from a University of North Texas study in which researchers concluded that Wellmune can also positively impact the immunosuppression of this “less-active population” following moderate exercise. The company presented these results at the National Strength and Conditioning Association annual conference held in Orlando, FL, last year.
- Van der Merwe M et al., “The influence of methylsulfonylmethane on inflammation-associated cytokine release before and following strenuous exercise,” Journal of Sports Medicine. Published online October 23, 2016.
- McFarlin BK et al. “Baker’s yeast beta glucan supplementation increases salivary IgA and decreases cold/flu symptomatic days after intense exercise,” Journal of Dietary Supplements, vol. 10, no. 3 (September 2013): 171-183
- Wickens K et al., “A differential effect of 2 probiotics in the prevention of eczema and atopy: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial,” The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, vol. 122, no. 4 (October 2008): 788-794
- Wickens K et al., “A protective effect of Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 against eczema in the first 2 years of life persists to age 4 years,” Clinical and Experimental Allergy: Journal of the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology, vol. 42, no. 7 (July 2012): 1071-1079
- Wickens K et al., “Early supplementation with Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 reduces eczema prevalence to 6 years: does it also reduce atopic sensitization?” Clinical and Experimental Allergy: Journal of the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology, vol. 43, no. 9 (September 2013): 1048-1057
- Ritchie MR et al., “Effects of Echinaforce(R) treatment on ex vivo-stimulated blood cells,” Phytomedicine, vol. 18, no. 10 (July 15, 2011): 826-831
- Zakay-Rones Z et al., “Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama,” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, vol. 1, no. 4 (1995 Winter): 361-369
- Melchior J et al., “Double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot and phase III study of activity of standardized Andrographis paniculata Herba Nees extract fixed combination (Kan jang) in the treatment of uncomplicated upper-respiratory tract infection,” Phytomedicine, vol. 7, no. 5 (October 2000): 341-350