When the COVID-19 pandemic hit back in March, life for most Americans took a sharp detour from business as usual. Among other practices, the “new normal” brought with it the social distancing, mask wearing and sharp increase in at-home food preparation that continue to this day.

Amid the pandemic, many worried Americans also have been looking for ways to boost their immune system. According to a June 3 blog post from global market research firm Mintel, that reality has piqued interest in foods and beverages with a little something extra — immunity-boosting ingredients.

In an April 2 web post, Dr. Kate Allen, executive director of science and public affairs for the London-based World Cancer Research Fund International, notes that many nutrients are involved with the normal functioning of the immune system. Some key nutrients for effective immune function include copper, folate, iron, selenium, zinc and vitamins A, B6, B12, C and D.

Probiotics also boast appeal. In fact, a July 31 Forbes article cites a recent study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology reporting that “widespread use of probiotics could result in 2.2 million fewer antibiotic prescriptions, 54 million fewer annual sick days and $919 million in avoided annual productivity losses.”


Opportunity knocks

In a May 20 press release, ResearchAndMarkets.com, a Dublin-based market research firm, points to a massive opportunity during this current healthcare crisis for functional foods and drinks, “as all focus shifts towards boosting the immunity in fighting the disease in the absence of known cure and treatment.” What’s more, the interest in immunity-boosting foodstuffs isn’t expected to go away when the pandemic is no longer a concern. In fact, ResearchAndMarkets.com revised its previously released global forecast for the functional food and drink segment upward, predicting it will reach $229.1 billion by 2027.

“The many benefits of functional foods that now make them now more than ever vitally important in diets include therapeutic benefits such as cholesterol reduction, weight management, etc.; disease preventive benefits such as reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, renal diseases, etc.; and effective safeguard[ing] against dietary deficiency diseases,” the market research firm states.

New technologies such as nanoencapsulation stand to help companies develop affordable, slow-absorbing functional food options rich in micronutrients, ResearchAndMarkets adds.

Dairy processors have the chance to tap into this massive opportunity for growth by introducing new products with added immunity-boosting ingredients. But they could build sales by amplifying the immunity benefits of certain existing products, too.

Many dairy products, for example, already contain a number of immunity-enhancing vitamins and minerals. And many cultured dairy products already boast probiotics. Perhaps it’s time to tout that “little something extra.”