Nutritional Outlook interviewed our Director of Berry Science Melanie Bush and VP of Business Development Chris Tower to get their take on the rise of immune-health supplements during COVID-19 and what that means for the industry.

Immune health is one of the top dietary supplement categories, as more consumers each year are interested in maintaining not only their own health but their children’s, too. But now that consumers’ concerns have turned toward COVID-19, immune-health supplements are even more popular, as consumers are looking for ways to stay healthy amid this uncertain time. Although supplements cannot prevent, treat, or cure any disease, there are many dietary supplement ingredients that have documented research on their ability to support the immune system and overall health.

Nutritional Outlook spoke with several ingredient suppliers with a longstanding presence in the dietary supplements industry about their concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic, including immune-boosting ingredients backed by science.

Nutritional Outlook: Do you expect to see an increase in the number of companies making immune-health claims for their ingredients or finished products during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Mark LeDoux, chairman and CEO, Natural Alternatives International (NAI; Carlsbad, CA): There is no shortage of companies or advertisers who are seeking to capitalize on consumers’ concerns raised by this pandemic, but that does not give them license to make unsubstantiated claims regarding products. There are multiple substances that can be shared with consumers deploying recognized nutrients that possess well-validated structure and function claims, and companies should be mindful of their legal responsibilities in communicating with consumers.

John Quilter, vice president and general manager, Kerry (Beloit, WI): Unsurprisingly, there’s much more focus on immune health now. It’s not necessarily that companies are making new claims, but many are taking the opportunity to promote immune-health products in their portfolios or emphasizing immune-health benefits over other selling points.

Chris Tower, vice president of sales and business development, Artemis International (Fort Wayne, IN): Yes, absolutely. The COVID-19 pandemic has catalyzed consumers’ fears and, subsequently, the immune-boosting health category has become the latest trend in the dietary supplement arena, acutely on an unprecedented historic level. Clearly this has proven out with the latest SPINS data upon the onset of the pandemic.

My concern in times like this is overhyping ingredients—over-promotion among companies that is far beyond scientifically substantiated efficacy, which provokes unrealistic expectations among consumers. This fuels an increased demand and increased numbers of new consumers into the supplement category for the first time. I’ve witnessed over the past two decades that industry-related acute demand like this can often result in a relative long-term proportional correction in the demand curve, and usage of these related products will settle back to normalized demand.

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