Insights from Europe: Innovating to Capture Immunity Trends
COVID-19 is creating new opportunities for solutions that can strengthen the immune system naturally, such as probiotics and lactoferrin.
19 May 2021
The ongoing battle with COVID-19, has seen consumers take an unprecedented interest in immunity. But unlike the annual spike in concern usually accompanying each flu season, we now see a shift. Consumers are now aware that the body is defending itself all year round, and are subsequently focusing on preventative measures to maintain long term immune health.
Surveys conducted in early 2021 show that a greater proportion of European consumers are now more conscious of their overall immunity compared to previous years1:
According to a report published last year by Mintel, COVID-19 saw 45% of European consumers add more nutrients into their diets, while 29% were more interested in foods that supported their immune system. This interest also extends out to beverages & supplements.
Consumers aren’t just looking for a quick win to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19. They are seeking proactive approaches to general wellbeing to improve their overall lifestyle and reduce the chances of catching common illnesses each year.
Angus Rowland | Sales Manager Europe | NZMP’s Sports & Active Lifestyle Division
COVID-19 shines a spotlight on health and wellbeing
Similarly, Innova Market Insights’ recent consumer survey revealed 54% of consumers have been self-educating2, which has resulted in increasing demand for previously lesser-known immunity supporting ingredients such as zinc, lactoferrin and vitamin D, in addition to existing solutions like probiotics.
Overall, focus on health and wellbeing has seen the global market for functional foods grow at an accelerated rate – sales of functional foods rose to $175 billion in 20201 and are set to continue, with consumers interested in both products that are positioned to benefit overall wellness, as well as those providing specific benefits such as immunity and digestive health3.
This presents a significant opportunity for food and beverage manufacturers in Europe to expand their product offerings. Angus observes that this is an opportunity NZMP is primed for, given their ability to support product development through speciality ingredients in their portfolio such as probiotics and lactoferrin. He also points out that specialty ingredients derived from dairy can be more easily accepted by consumers because they may already have some understanding of where these ingredients come from and how they can potentially deliver benefits.
Lactoferrin: A fighter against inflammation and supporter of immunity
Lactoferrin proteins are naturally found in high concentration in human breast milk and have important and diverse biological functions. Bovine milk lactoferrin is similar in structure and function to human lactoferrin.
Its bioactive nature means that it has the potential to influence biological processes in the body supporting immunity. Evidence shows that lactoferrin’s antioxidant properties can help to fight inflammation and protect against certain types of infections. It is also able to help improve iron absorption, supporting immune cell growth and development, and energy production to reduce fatigue.
Lactoferrin is a scarce and valuable ingredient, requiring 10,000 litres of milk to make just one kilogram. While the ingredient has been around for decades, advances in technology and NZMP’s proprietary processing techniques allow for improved extraction from both fresh European and New Zealand milk. This greater yield and quality, combined with emerging research on its immunity potential means it has increasingly been incorporated into more products including protein powders, yoghurts, drink mixes, cheese, ice-cream and even confectionery1.
Probiotics: The protectors of gut health, immunity, and mental health
Probiotics have long been a staple in many households. In fact, one in two households globally, have purchased probiotic products in the past year. The popularity of probiotics is thanks to the increased recognition not only of their gut health benefits, but their ability to mediate a wide range of possible health benefits including immunity & mental health1,3.
It is important to remember that probiotic health benefits are strain specific, meaning that not all strains will support consumers’ immunity goals. This makes consumer education crucial for brands to differentiate themselves, as well as manage expectations from those who might find probiotic health claims confusing or misleading.
Yoghurt has historically been the most common way to consume probiotics. Even now, 58% of French consumers have bought probiotic yoghurt in the last 12 months, with 44% having purchased yoghurt drinks5. However, advancements in product formulation means probiotics are also being added to more novel food formats like chocolate and ice cream.
NZMP Europe helps customers to innovate immunity products
NZMP’s understanding of the global food and beverage landscape and the impacts of COVID-19, has created significant opportunities to support agile European customers seeking to expand their offerings.
At NZMP we have the benefit of sharing insights with other colleagues and regions, meaning we can offer our customers the clinical evidence required to give them the confidence for new product development work.
Odile Conan | NZMP Technical Innovation Lead | Europe
As with all our key regions around the world, the NZMP Europe team covers expertise across technical development, manufacturing, regulatory and marketing, to provide customers with cross-functional support. This accelerates product development, by helping customers better navigate trends, production challenges, and complex regional regulations.
Recent examples of this, have included supporting protein customers in Europe to reformulate their protein shakes and meal replacement products, by adding probiotics and lactoferrin to allow for stronger immune positioning. Through our understanding of clinical literature, we have been able to help make recommendations on this and suggested dosage rates.
There are also opportunities for probiotics and lactoferrin outside of the traditional dairy formats. For example, in the European market, these ingredients are featured in beverages like kombucha, and indulgent snacks such as chocolate bars. These ingredients are versatile because they don’t typically impact flavour or texture.
As health claims are strictly regulated by the European Food Safety Authority, this presents some challenges for customers wanting to promote health benefits – particularly for probiotics. For NZMP, this is where ownership of brand or product trademarks, and records of scientific evidence has provided the most value to customers, giving them confidence that they will be able to credibly differentiate on the market.
The clinical proof behind certain probiotic strains is even causing some countries such as Spain, Italy, UK and Poland to re-think their previously restrictive regulations. There is hope that as regulations are reviewed, ingredients backed by robust human clinical evidence will eventually be recognised and set apart from those with more dubious marketing stories.
Considering immunity benefits in everyday food and beverage
As brands explore how to build immunity positioning into their existing products, they should remember that immunity solutions are no longer about providing a quick fix to an existing ailment. Instead, the most appealing immune solutions will need to address longer term health concerns. Rather than solving single needs, it is increasingly common for health and wellness products to multi-task.
For our existing customers, this provides the perfect opportunity to build on the already solid foundations of dairy infused health products. The simple addition of specialty ingredients such as probiotics or lactoferrin, can transform one dimensional products into offerings that provide a suite of health benefits.
Just as consumers are looking to improve their immunity at this time, brand owners should be seeking out partners & solutions that will also support their long-term business health. With in-market knowledge & on-the-ground experts, NZMP is ready for this challenge.
-  FMCG Gurus, COVID-19 Survey analysis, Spain, February 2021
-  Innova Market Insights, 'COVID-19 drives prioritization of immune health': https://www.innovamarketinsights.com/press-release/covid-19-drives-prioritization-of-immune-health/
-  Euromonitor Passport analysis
-  FMCG Gurus , ‘How has COVID-19 changed consumer behavior?’, July 2020
-  https://www.nzmp.com/global/en/products/ingredients/types/proteins/whey-protein-isolates/lactoferrin.html
-  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7560221/
-  https://www.nzmp.com/global/en/products/ingredients/types/specialty/probiotics/nzmp-bifidob-hn019.html
-  FMCG Gurus, Probiotics France Q4 Survey 2020