It’s August, and that means for many families it’s time to get ready for back to school. Parents are stocking up on hand sanitizer, tissues and cold medicine in preparation for the germs their kids might come in contact with. However, when compared with past decades, kids might be better equipped to fight off these germs because of the growing number of consumer packaged goods (CPG) supporting immune health. Consumer trends have moved toward products that support a proactive, preventative health and wellness lifestyles.

“According to industry research, more than 75 percent of the adult population uses fortified foods and beverages,” says Jerry W. Smith, founder and chief executive officer of Nature’s Pearl Corp., Advance, N.C.

More than ever, parents are looking to prevent their children from getting sick, rather than treat the illness once it comes. According to Richard G. Mueller, chief executive officer of Biothera, Eagan, Minn., a Gallup study found that immunity is the most desired health benefit moms look for when shopping for their children.

“As most have seen, the market for functional beverages has exploded in the past decade,” Biothera’s Mueller says. “According to Euromonitor International, the global market for functional and fortified beverages has more than doubled in the past decade to $86 billion last year.

“What’s interesting is that the growth of functional beverages may still be in its early stages,” Mueller continues. “Consumers’ embracement of beverages created to provide specific health benefits is a recent phenomenon. Twenty years ago, consumers were focused on the absence of nutritional negatives in beverages — low sodium, refined sugar, artificial sweeteners. They’ve since come to accept the presence of nutritional positives — calcium, fiber — but now are seeking targeted benefits — heart health, energy, digestion. Driving this shift are consumers who are also taking a long-term approach to their health, moving from reactive, short-term fixes to a more proactive, preventative approach.”

Schenectady, N.Y.-based Fortitech by DSM’s Premix Innovations Manager Russ Hazen agrees. “Generally speaking, I think the consumer mindset has embraced the concept of maintaining and supporting overall wellness as a way to facilitate our long-term health,” he explains. “I believe immunity resonates with most people when they think about their own health, and that of their family, and they are looking for more natural, holistic alternatives to prescription medication. Beverages are a portable and convenient vehicle in which to deliver immunity supporting ingredients.”

Nature’s Peal Corp.’s Smith adds that consumers are learning that the easiest, most effective way to protect your body from illness is to consume products that contain substances that have immune supporting benefits.

Making it happen

With consumers pushing the market for more functional CPGs that support their immune systems, ingredient suppliers are responding by fortifying new and efficacious solutions that provide those benefits in a healthy, natural way.

Biothera offers Wellmune, a 100 percent natural food, beverage and supplement ingredient that is clinically proven to help strengthen the immune system, the company says.

According to Mueller, Wellmune can enhance immune functions, improve physical health, maintain healthy energy levels, provide immune support during aging and maintain health during times of stress.

Imune Nuture, a fruity water for kids from U.K.-based Natural Immune Products Ltd., and Grupo Gloria’s Gloria Pro Defensis drinkable yogurt with probiotic are just some examples of CPG products that have incorporated Wellmune.

Fortitech by DSM can add immunity-boosting nutrients to its custom nutrient premixes for the global food, beverage and supplement industries, according to Hazen. “There are several nutrients often found in fortified products that have been shown by scientific studies to influence immunity,” he says.

Hazen explains that the company offers several nutrients that help support immune function. Carotenoids and vitamins C and E are at the top of his list. “[These nutrients] influence innate and adaptive immune function by altering functional capacity of innate immune cells, lymphocyte (T-cell) proliferation and delayed-type hypersensitivity response,” he explains.

Hazan says that vitamins A and D, fish oils, copper, zinc and selenium all support immune functions as well. However, he notes that there are several emerging immune ingredients, such as green tea; curcumin, a compound found in turmeric; Boswellia, another traditional Ayurvedic medicine made from the Boswellia Sarrata tree, and echinacea, commonly referred to as the purple coneflower.

AIDP Inc., City of Industry, Calif., offers its new prebiotic ingredient, PreticX. PreticX is a non-GMO prebiotic that has a generally recognized safe status and has been shown in clinical studies to significantly increase the proliferation of good gut bacteria.

“Advancing scientific research continues to demonstrate that balanced gut microbiota is essential for digestive function and that an unhealthy microbiota balance in the gut is a precursor to serious digestive issues and immune dysfunctions,” said Jennifer Gu, AIDP’s vice president of research and development, in a statement. “The use of both prebiotic and probiotic products will continue to grow as consumers begin to understand that their digestive and immune function will decline gradually with age.”

Highlighting antioxidants, Nature’s Pearl offers its 100 percent Muscadine juice. “There are over 100 antioxidants found in our product,” Smith says. “It has been well documented in research journals that natural antioxidants may protect cells from carcinogens, cancer-causing substances, and inhibit tumor growth by helping to neutralize free radicals in the body.

“The antioxidant also may guard against heart disease by relaxing blood vessels, inhibiting the formation of blood clots that trigger heart attacks and strokes,” he continues.

Smith also notes that many fruits and vegetables have high levels of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, which can be beneficial in strengthening the immune system. “You can turn them into nutritional juices that are highly beneficial to your health,” he says.

Adding these functional benefits adds new challenges for beverage-formulators. “The successful formulation of a fortified beverage product to support immune function must meet several challenges and requires consideration of many different factors,” Fortitech’s Hazen says. “Regardless of the benefit of the ingredient you are working with, when more than one nutrient is being added to fortify a beverage, a formulation scientist must consider interactions, both positive and negative, that could take place.”

As trends continue to lean toward functional benefits, Mueller makes a few suggestions for beverage-makers considering immune supporting ingredients. “Successful functional beverages start with safe, efficacious ingredients supported by numerous peer-reviewed clinical studies,” Mueller explains. “Quality clinical research can earn credibility among consumers and support compelling market claims that can help better define the product, withstand regulatory scrutiny and ultimately drive consumer value.”

However, functional ingredient are only beneficial when the benefits can easily be explained.

Biothera’s Mueller explains that the company’s research found that consumers attribute a variety of health benefits to a healthy immune system.

 Finally, Mueller suggests that beverage-makers watch out for functional ingredient serving sizes. “We often see functional ingredients that either lack dose-escalation research to determine optimum serving sizes for finished products containing only a small fraction of the ingredient serving used in clinical studies,” he explains. “Be sure that the recommended ingredient serving amount matches the amount used in clinical research to demonstrate its benefits and support claims.”