Drinking in the Benefits: Functional Beverages for Immune Health

woman pouring beverage with functional immune ingredients

As consumers begin to expect even-better-for-you beverages, immune health claims are rising

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KerryDigest Fast Facts:

  • The functional beverage market is growing, and immune health claims are regularly featured on a significant number of product launches.
  • The growing consumer interest in health and wellness is largely fueling this market expansion, as are decreasing sales in other categories, such as soft drinks.
  • To meet this consumer thirst, brands have the opportunity to add functional benefits such as immune support to a growing range of beverages, including sparkling water and energy drinks.

KerryDigest Full Scoop:

Growing awareness of immune health amongst consumers has resulted in product innovations across the functional beverage market. A recent global market report found that between 2016 and 2019—before COVID-19 further increased awareness—launches of products with an immunity claim grew by 9% in the juice category, 43% in flavored bottled waters and 32% in energy drinks. Also driving market expansion is the emergence of functional beverages formulated to provide science-supported benefits and consumer appeal, as well as growing interest in and familiarity with ingredients perceived to deliver health benefits.

As consumers continue to hone their nutritional literacy, interest in supporting their own health is growing. Yet consumers are often left to sort through conflicting claims to determine how best to meet their needs. In the beverage market in general, findings can sometimes seem contradictory. With so many options to choose from, it’s increasingly important for manufacturers to provide clear guidance to help consumers make better choices.

Beverage choices reflect healthier outlooks

Consumers who prioritize wellness are becoming even more discerning about their beverage choices—in both their daily drink choices and in the benefits they look for in functional beverages. Euromonitor notes that as many as 75% of consumers now say they are interested in functional products that support immune health. Along with this trend, regional studies have reported a sharp decline in alcohol consumption over concern about its health risks. There is also evidence that many consumers are turning away from sodas. In fact, some research shows that the youngest consumers are now the least likely to buy traditional soft drinks.

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New formats are trending

Soft-drink makers are responding to consumer demand for healthier options by launching sparkling waters and other refreshing beverages with added healthful ingredients like vitamins and minerals. In the energy drink space, manufacturers are also heeding consumer demand for products with less sugar and caffeine. This trend toward healthier offerings is an opportunity to add immune support to beverages to complement the benefits consumers are beginning to associate with these products. And the functional beverage market is responding with new innovations such as the below.

  • Natural energy drinks
    In the energy drink space, manufacturers are responding to consumer demand by formulating with ingredients such as ginseng, which is suggested to help support normal health and wellness and can lend credibility as well as a cleaner label. Some are also integrating immune health support, which is a natural fit to enhance the healthy benefits of beverages in this growing category.
  • Refreshing new options
    Immune health is among the top four fastest growing functional claims in refreshing beverages, with Innova reporting over 400 launches of refreshing beverage products with immune health benefits in 2020. Included in this category are options such as bottled waters, juices, fruit drinks and teas.
  • Hybrid beverages
    In the hybrid beverages category, which is defined as a product made through the combination of two or more drink categories, such as flavored waters or sparkling juices, immune health now ranks fourth in the list of top ten global health claims, with ample opportunity for market growth.
Confirming the benefits on offer

As consumers search for functional beverages that provide the benefits they desire, they face a wall of choices. With so many options available, it is especially important that manufacturers clarify the benefits offered by their products. Complex regulatory environments around the world can also pose challenges in communicating benefits, with very specific guidance on how a product may be positioned.

Yet consumers want to understand a product’s benefits. A recent report found that half (49%) of global consumers want more information about the nutritional value of products, while Kerry research has shown that many people now make purchase decisions by looking for ingredients they recognize or ones that are supported by scientific data.

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To help communicate the benefits offered by functional beverages, scientific substantiation is essential. When products are properly positioned and highlight the genuine science-backed benefits proven by high-quality studies, they can achieve a real impact by making healthy choices for consumers more convenient, accessible and appealing. Such findings can be communicated via on-pack callouts, social media, influencer marketing, blog posts, in-store promotions and more. For example, one well-known brand recently took to Instagram to promote the immune support ingredient Wellmune® to its product.

For more insight on the global market for immune health beverages, download our latest white paper, The Challenges Facing the Functional Beverage Market and How to Solve Them.

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