Immune health beverages: What do brands need to know before jumping into immunity drinks?

Tips for formulating for maximum efficacy and consumer appeal

Immunity drinks are becoming more popular, and for good reason: these beverages offer health-conscious consumers an easy, on-the-go way to boost their immune system. Consumers have widely embraced immune health food and drinks especially since 2020. Data from Packaged Facts show that over 40% of consumers increased their purchases of immune health functional foods and beverages over the last two years.1

This market is full of opportunity for product companies, provided they can source ingredients that both have proven immune health benefits and are format friendly. Here are some of the considerations brands should make when planning the leap into immune health beverages.

Backed by Clinical and Botanical Studies

Formulating an effective immune health beverage starts with effective ingredients. Paul Evers, co-founder and CEO of drink brand Riff (Bend, OR), says it’s important for brands to either test their ingredients in botanical studies and clinical trials, or consult research studies and trials that others have done. Brands should also review nutritional guidelines, labeling regulations, and other literature to ensure the active ingredients in the drink will be present in sufficient amounts to confer an immune health benefit at the time of consumption.

“Companies offering immune health beverages should also pay attention to crop-to-crop variation when using agricultural ingredients,” Evers notes. “This plays into the understanding of how the active ingredient behaves throughout the drink’s shelf life. Use accredited food-testing laboratories for product studies and testing to ensure any processing losses of the active ingredient are accounted for.”

Some of the promising ingredient combinations used in beverages involve a base of adaptogens mixed with various fortifying ingredients. Evers says brands now have a wide array of ingredient options for immune health beverages. Ingredient suppliers are able to provide more ingredients for a wider variety of applications than in the past, and emerging food technologies are resolving solubility issues. For instance, Riff’s branded Booyah Berry Energy + Immunity drink combines cascara (coffee fruit, Coffea arabica), elderberry (Sambucus nigra) juice concentrate, and vitamin C.

Increased demand for immunity products has created supply chain challenges, however. Evers says demand for elderberry juice is outstripping supply, which is causing shortages. Brands that lean on elderberry as a prominent ingredient will need to plan for supply chain disruption.

Format Choice Will Influence Formulations

When formulating an immune health beverage, brands will need to consider, when processing the drink, the end format the beverage will take. Ram Nimmagudda, senior advisor of bioactive product technology at Glanbia Nutritionals (Chicago), says ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages bring certain challenges.

“The RTD product format could impact efficacy unless functional challenges are addressed through clever technology processing,” Nimmagudda says. Still, he adds, “Both RTD and RTM [ready-to-mix] beverages have their advantages to offer from a consumer standpoint, [and] RTD is on the rise, especially in enhanced waters.”

There is no shortage of immune health ingredients that are water soluble and suitable for use in beverage formulations. Nimmagudda notes that ingredients like zinc, curcumin, and ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) are showing promise in immune health drinks. Vitamin C and vitamin E are also ideal ingredients for inclusion in these beverages.

Flexible Technologies Can Ensure Ingredient Efficacy

Delivering an efficacious dose is a concern with any delivery system. Brooke Woodley, director of product development and applications for ADM (Chicago), advises that vitamins and minerals can degrade over the course of a beverage’s shelf life, particularly when the product is exposed to heat, light, or oxygen for an extended period of time. Protecting active ingredients from these conditions requires a multifaceted plan.

“Our approach uses emulsions for oil-soluble vitamins to ensure an even dispersion of vitamins within the drink,” Woodley says. “This minimizes sedimentation, precipitation, and turbidity. We also recommend packaging that limits direct product exposure to heat, light, and oxygen.”

RTD immune health beverages offer formulators greater control over flavor, mouthfeel, and appearance, which makes formulating more flexible, Woodley says. Meanwhile, advanced technology has made it possible to overcome challenges involving ingredient solubility. When working with less-stable ingredients, formulators have several options for ensuring product stability and efficacy, she says.

“We often recommend formulating with overdosage amounts for vitamins and minerals that have potential to degrade,” she says. “Then we make further adjustments to correct any undesirable sensory attributes, including appearance, taste, or texture.”

Flavors and Blends on the Rise

Micah Greenhill, beverage marketing director for ADM, says emerging drink blends are mixing multiple immune health ingredients in combination products. These products often incorporate flavors that consumers commonly associate with immune function, such as orange, lemon, berry, honey, lime, or ginger.

“Combining multiple vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, and other bioactives into one drink can enhance consumer appeal,” Greenhill says. “Tropical fruit [flavors] like pineapple, passionfruit, and mango may pair well with vitamins and zinc.”

Some of the other emerging flavors in immune health drinks are starting to catch consumer attention. ADM’s research shows that flavors like apple and watermelon, while less established, offer a unique draw and are starting to gain an association with immunity in the consumer’s mind.

Immune Health Drinks Diversify

Emerging immune health beverages are taking a variety of forms. ADM has tracked a rise in immune health products in all manner of beverage types, Greenhill says, from sparkling waters and yogurt smoothies to fermented drinks, coffee, and more. These products are also increasingly exploring new flavors, indicating the market is ready for expansion. Immune health drink brands that want to stand out will want to focus on a robust functional ingredient profile paired with unique, in-demand flavors.

Reference

  1. Packaged Facts report. “Immunity Boosting Foods: Gut Health & General Immunity Improvement.” Published online June 4, 2021.