Monitor: Immunity and COVID-19 concerns top of mind for consumers as fall and winter approach

Governments may have lifted lockdown and some politicians seem eager to declare the pandemic over, but consumers have immunity on their minds and may be ready to hunker down for winter.

Rick Polito, Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Business Journal

October 1, 2020

5 Min Read

Natural Products Industry Health Monitor, Oct. 2, 2020

A global lockdown might make weeks feel like months and months weigh like centuries, but business allows little room for ennui. As distracting as the daily inundation of the negative can be, the time to look forward is always now. In this feature, Informa Health and Nutrition sister properties provide that right-now-right-here update. Look for the Industry Health Monitor every other Friday to learn the major news that is affecting the natural products market immediately and the less obvious insights that could dictate where the market may struggle or thrive in the months to come.

Consider this: Immunity precedent

At some point in the next few months, some group of self-appointed linguaphiles will declare the “word of the year” and we can already assume it’s going to be “unprecedented,” a qualifier that could go in front of virtually every headline that’s marched across our screens this year. 

But the word of the year for the natural products industry is equally obvious: immunity.

We can see that in the Nutrition Business Journal’s Immune Health Special Report, which projects growth for immunity supplements at better than 50% in 2020, with standout ingredients like elderberry rocketing into the hundreds of percent.

We’re talking about it and we can be sure that consumers are talking about it, too.

But what are they doing about it?

The NBJ special report goes into detail with consumer research on how people view immunity and what they are doing to support it, but we also want to take a peek forward into the coming months when we learn what havoc the coronavirus can wreak with a chorus of cold and flu viruses as backup singers. To find out what consumers are thinking about, we asked them to compare their choices and behavior early in the pandemic, before viral fatigue set in, to what they expect they will be doing in the fall and winter months.

What we learned was that the natural products industry needs to accept that those early months were essentially a preview of what to expect as the days get shorter.

The results that will stand out for many is the renewed commitment to the shut-in lifestyle. Spring was a season of shuttered shops and empty restaurants with waiters standing curbside to hand to-go boxes through the passenger window. In the survey, 59% of respondents fell in the “do less” side of the spectrum for eating at restaurants and 50% said the same for shopping in a physical store.

The only activities that came in weighted toward “do more” were cooking at home (good news for our natural products retailers) and ordering online.

No dramatic number of consumers said they would take specific action around immunity at greater rates. The largest number of consumer responses fell in the middle of the do-more/do-less range for building immunity foods and supplements.

That 40% of consumers fell into the top two rungs for both stocking up on groceries and then wiping those groceries down when they got home is interesting news for retailers and brands. All those people are staying home to eat but they also might appreciate seeing the sanitization measures in prominent use.

In general, it seems that consumers might be planning for some self-imposed lockdown. It might not come from government decree, but a long winter is coming.

It is, indeed, a precedent.

Know this: Supplement wins and preparing to eat out

The immunity industry. The supplement industry has clearly benefitted from a spike consumer interest in immunity driven by the pandemic. NBJ Senior Analyst Claire Morton-Reynolds explains that in an Analyst's Take from late September. She noted that a projected 10% of all supplements sold in 2020 will be immunity. Morton-Reynolds also touches on research from the NBJ Immune Health Special Report that finds 37% of consumers are buying immunity supplements and more than a quarter are taking them weekly or more often.

Vitamin D gains steam from science. Other government voices may be viewed with much-deserved skepticism during the pandemic, but when National Institutes of Health infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, M.D., said he takes vitamin D supplements for immunity, consumers undoubtedly gained confidence in a nutrition strategy to avoid COVID-19. But they didn’t have to wait for Fauci’s blessing. A number of studies back up vitamin D as an immunity strategy in the pandemic age, as explained by New Hope staff writer Todd Runestad.

Open heating.The New York Times says restaurants are not surrendering to the change of seasons early. Outdoor space heaters are selling out and other establishments are banking on yurts, plastic igloos and adiditional innovations.

Natural Products Industry Health Monitor indexes

Consumer behavior indexes measure dramatic shifts in consumer behaviors as we march through COVID compared with a 2017 “normal” benchmark before COVID-19 emerged. These indexes are assessed through bi-weekly surveys of how consumers perceive their shopping behaviors. 

The natural products industry engagement index measures dramatic shifts in social and mass media engagement—of the top 50 trends shaping the natural products industry—as we march through COVID compared with a Q4 2019 “normal” benchmark before COVID-19 emerged. The index assesses weekly keyword engagement of these top trends.

The natural products industry investment index measures dramatic shifts in investment activity as we march through COVID compared with a 2019 “normal” benchmark before COVID-19 emerged. Nutrition Capital Network monitors weekly financial activity in the natural products industry. 

Enjoy this: Playing with your food

Covid burgers, masked cookies, viral pastries? We got a kick out of this CNN story on creative culinary takes on the coronavirus.

masked cookies

About the Author(s)

Rick Polito

Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Business Journal

As Nutrition Business Journal's editor-in-chief, Rick Polito writes about the trends, deals and developments in the natural nutrition industry, looking for the little companies coming up and the big money coming in. An award-winning journalist, Polito knows that facts and figures never give the complete context and that the story of this industry has always been about people.

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