Immune Health & Beyond: What’s Trending in Raw Materials

No trade show? No problem. We asked the industry experts to talk segments—and specifics—to watch.

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With so many trade shows cancelled, we at WholeFoods wanted to give you the industry overview—and a look at the latest products—that you’re missing when you can’t stroll the aisles of the conventional hall. So we asked the experts: What’s trending? What would you have been showcasing at your booth this fall? What should people be thinking about?

The overview: “Some of the most popular trends shaping the food and beverage industry over the past few years include rising demand for products with clean and clear labels, better-for-you status, and close-to-nature product positioning,” says Ana Ferrell, VP and Head of Marketing, North America, ADM.

Our contributors also discussed segments seeing growth, the importance of branded ingredients, and the future.

Some areas that are booming:

Immune Health. This one is no surprise. Ferrell explains: “Today, consumers are facing the widespread ramifications of COVID-19 and are more motivated than ever to proactively support all aspects of their health, including physical and mental wellbeing. The pandemic has reinforced interest in foods, beverages and supplements that provide targeted health benefits such as immunity support and sustained energy.”

Francesca de Rensis, Marketing Director, Indena S.p.A., seconds that. “With all the media attention focused on COVID-19 and immunity, I believe there will be a focus on more immune daily regimen products. In the past, immune products have performed well during the winter and allergy seasons, but I think the current situation has compelled individuals to think about how to strengthen their immune system every day.”

Ferrell cites research from FMCG Gurus finding that, as of June 2020, 57% of global consumers have become more concerned about their immunity due to COVID-19. “Product developers have an opportunity to grow their market share by formulating products with ingredients like prebiotics and functional botanicals, which deliver the health benefits consumers are seeking out.”

And suppliers are rising to that challenge, in order to offer product developers what they need. For instance, Sabinsa is highlighting the immune support benefits of the company’s ingredients. “Sabinsa’s Curcumin C3 Complex has clinical validation for many health conditions, so we’re raising awareness that it supports immune function and counteracts inflammation, a component of the COVID-19 disease,” explains Shaheen Majeed, President Worldwide, Sabinsa. “A recent peer-reviewed scientific article co-authored by the founder and chairman of Sabinsa, Dr. Muhammed Majeed, along with other scientists, reviews the possible role of curcumin in COVID-19 scenarios with supporting evidence from existing literature.” The review summarizes the results from in silico and animal studies of curcumin on viral infections, which found that curcumin could at least partially prevent the entrance of coronavirus into human cells. Other findings: “The paper cites several studies wherein curcumin is effective in pulmonary -inflammation, -fibrosis, and -edema. The positive role of curcumin played out under the cytokine storm conditions during viral infections is also discussed. The review touches on the recuperative actions of curcumin on cardiac and kidney functional damage caused by viral infections. Curcumin’s role in mitigating the morbid acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) during viral infections, as demonstrated in animal models, is also reviewed. The outstanding antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin are the basis of their activity.”

Gut Health. This area is seeing innovation—and a recent development may spur even more: An international panel of experts recently redefined the term synbiotics (1). Hannah Holscher, one of the panel members, explained that the old definition—which included the terms pre- and probiotics—“may have restricted innovation.” The new definition hopes to guide the future innovation that will hopefully result from the redefinition.

This is far from the only development in the digestive health arena. The segment is helped along by growing evidence of a connection to general, body-wide health. “New interest in gut health continues as a gateway to overall health and immune support,” says Mark Thurston, President of AIDP. “We continue to believe that prebiotics will be at the forefront of overall gut health.”

ADM is looking to expand the ways in which digestive health ingredients can be used. “ADM offers prebiotics and probiotics targeting various wellness benefits,” says Ferrell. “One of the most exciting new ingredients from ADM in this area is our heat-treated BPL-1, a functional ingredient that can even be used in applications where heat processing occurs without negative impacts to efficacy, giving formulators an opportunity to add microbiome-supporting ingredients in a wider range of products.”

Deerland Probiotics & Enzymes is working to combine these goals—getting digestive health ingredients into foods, while promoting holistic health. And the company is doing this with scientific backing, including recent research. Sam Michini, VP Marketing & Strategy, tells WholeFoods: “Deerland has a new study just published on its PreforPro prebiotic ingredient, and new studies demonstrating how Bacillus subtilis DE111 supports children’s immune response and GI health are pending publication. The BacterioPHAGE for Gastrointestinal Health 2 Study was a 4-week, randomized, parallel-arm, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical intervention trial. Sixty-six participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: 15mg placebo; Bifidobacterium animalis BL04 (B. lactis BL04); or B. lactis BL04 plus PreforPro. Overall, the researchers found that of all three groups, the B. lactis plus PreforPro group showed reductions in GI inflammation, colonic cramps, and the amount of associated bacteria, plus a greater increase in the amount of Lactobacillus spp.”

Other studies Deerland has published recently have found that DE111 can protect healthy immune function in children, Michini notes. One placebo-controlled study showed lower incidence of gastrointestinal infection and reduction in duration of incidents in the test group, and found that DE111 is safe for use in children aged 2-6 years old; the second showed that daily consumption of DE111 positively modulated the gut microbiome profile, without changing the overall microbiome equilibrium.

Sports Nutrition. A report from FMCG Gurus and FrieslandCampina found three key trends in the global sports nutrition market: convenience, personalization, and women’s fitness (2). Mike Hughes, Head of Research and Insight, FMCG Gurus, commented in a press release: ““Performance nutrition is an expanding and fast-paced market, so it is important that manufacturers stay up to date with the latest trends and consumer preferences.”

One promising ingredient in this area: krill oil. “Classic ingredients such as protein and electrolytes have been popular sports nutrition ingredients, but we are excited to see krill oil coming into that arena,” says Andreas Berg Storsve, M.Sc., Ph.D., Director of R&D at Aker BioMarine. “Aker BioMarine, in conjunction with Scandinavia’s Norseman Xtreme Triathlon and Oslo University Hospital, recently conducted a field study to investigate the effects of supplementation with krill oil—a rich source of phosphatidylcholine—on serum levels of choline and its metabolites in athletes competing in triathlons of varying distances.”

Many may have heard about choline in the context of infant health—but the sports health aspect may be less well known. “Choline is a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, and has been implicated in athletic performance due to its role in maintaining normal muscle function,” Storsve explains. “Previous studies have shown that circulating free choline is depleted during long-distance endurance events. In this field study, published in Frontiers in Nutrition, we investigated for the first time the effects of supplementation with krill oil on serum levels of choline and its metabolites in athletes competing in triathlons of varying distances. Our results show that the magnitude of reduction in choline is dependent on race distance and that consumption of krill oil prior to endurance competitions increases overall levels of circulating choline and metabolites in athletes.”

Storsve suggests that krill oil should thus find a place in any sports nutrition section: “These findings suggest that krill oil should be included as part of an overall nutritional strategy for optimal training and race day preparation. This makes krill oil a promising ingredient for sports nutrition brands. By incorporating krill oil into their portfolios, brands can have the opportunity to bring new concepts, innovations, and benefits to lifestyle consumers based on krill and choline’s effects in maintaining normal muscle function.”

KD Pharma and Stratum Nutrition have partnered to innovate in this area as well, combining KD Pharma’s marina omega oils—KD-Pür—and Stratum’s eggshell membrane, branded NEM. The resultant product, MOVE3, is backed by scientific evidence. Kevin Ruff, Ph.D., MBA, Senior Director of Scientific & Regulatory Affairs at Stratum, says that this helps brands: “Conducting this clinical trial in exercising healthy adults will allow brands to make label claims relating to joint pain and stiffness and even cartilage protection. This is an additional benefit that MOVE3 provides beyond any other combination product on the market” (3).

Functional Foods. “There’s a large and growing trend of reviewing personal consumption habits in an effort to improve one’s approach to eating healthy,” says David Little, Head Chocopreneur of Immunity Goodness, a division of ChocolateText. “Related to this, we’re seeing the growth of functional food.” He notes that this has two perks—the food itself now has added health benefits, and those looking for an alternative delivery system for a particular nutrient can have that. “A safe assumption is that many people enjoy chocolate,” Little says, “and would prefer it to traditional delivery systems like pills, tablets, drops, et cetera.”

Little also cites a SPINS report, which states: “Today’s shoppers are looking throughout the grocery store to find dietary benefits where they can get them…Functional ingredients have become a draw for many customers who want to retain their current dietary preferences but get an added benefit from it” (4). He explains that when it comes to chocolate, this can be difficult—“The challenge is that most vitamins, minerals, and so on have an unpleasant taste or require large amounts to be an effective dose. Working with a commodity like chocolate, the proper flavor and format must be selected while keeping in mind the desired end product with flavor enhancing that would not adversely affect the tempering and finishing of the chocolate.” Immunity Goodness works with pharmacists, scientists, and culinary-trained chefs to create products containing amino acids, CBD, collagen, CoQ10, hemp, melatonin, omega-3s, curcumin, and more. Little explains that ingredient manufacturers, brands, and retailers supply their ingredients, which Immunity Goodness then puts in chocolate. “Clients range from the Davids to the Goliaths of the industry. I’m preferential to the Davids,” Little jokes. “They move quickly.”

This segment will grow in the future, Little predicts. “The options seem endless, and many companies are jumping on board. Jif offers an omega-3-infused peanut butter; Melt offers a probiotic butter; Alive & Well makes Probiotic Olives. The beverage industry has seen a large offering of energy- and mineral-infused water, soda, milk, et cetera. Manufacturers’ product offerings will be limited only by their imagination—but very few foods generate smiles as much as chocolate.”

Thurston also is of the opinion that the plant-based trend plays into the functional food trend. “As demonstrated this year, consumers are looking for fortified foods and more plant-based products. The functional food trends in product development include plant proteins, vegan ingredients, traceability, the merging of supplements and food, plus clean label alternatives. The snack category has embraced many of these trends and has changed significantly this year. We are focused on providing healthy ingredients for functional food and beverage products.”

In the functional foods arena—albeit on the opposite side of the industry from plant-based—is dairy. A product that may be of interest: organic Micellar Casein Isolate (MCI). “MCI is a new ingredient which is rich in native milk proteins,” explains Katrine Helene Fruergaard Kristensen, Industry Marketing Manager, Arla Foods Ingredients. “It’s extracted from milk using gentle processing without the addition of acids; the protein maintains its chemical structure, allowing the creation of products that are as close to nature as possible.”

Kristensen says that Arla’s Nutrilac MicelPure Organic will help more brands enter the functional food segment—as well as the organic segment. “Our new organic range meets a clear industry need. Until now, a shortage of natural, organic protein ingredients has prevented many manufacturers from entering the organic market. Over the coming months we’ll be demonstrating its potential in foods like cheeses, yoghurts and ice cream, and health and performance applications like ready-to-drink high-protein beverages and powder shakes.  In both arenas, there’s a growing demand for products with a natural or wholesome positioning. In a recent survey, for example, 43% of European consumers said naturalness was an important factor when purchasing RTD high-protein beverages” (5).

And for those looking to up the general vitamin content of their foods, there are companies like Nascent Health, which offers Inositol and Inositol Hexanicotinate to up the amount of niacin—vitamin B3—in foods, and PureQQ, a source of pyrroloquinoline quinone, a nutrient used to support healthy energy production.

Focus on Branded Ingredients

Branded ingredients are leading the way, according to Thurston. “Since the beginning of the year, AIDP has added lines of ingredients from Biosearch Life, Immudyne, and Keraplast,” he says, explaining that these lines include a “revolutionary” beta-glucan for immune health, botanical extracts to support women’s health, probiotics for infant care, and an ingestible keratin clinically shown to support the development of collagen types IV and VII.

What separates branded ingredients from non-branded ingredients? “Science and clinical support,” Thurston says. “We invest in research and work with our partners in designing clinical trials to meet the demands of manufacturers and consumers alike.” AIDP is looking forward to a new clinical trial on their prebiotics—PreticX, Actazin, and Livaux—which should be published in early 2021; AP-Bio has new data on immune health and respiratory distress; Gutgard is beginning a new trial; and AIDP is exploring the role of magnesium in immune health via their bioavailable Magtein.

Indena is digging down deep into their own branded ingredients, according to de Rensis, in absolute agreement that clinical evidence separates them from the pack. “In a recent study, Indena focused on studying the effect of microbiota on biotransformation of curcumin. In-vitro studies demonstrated that Meriva formulation with lecithin has a remarkable impact on the biotransformation of curcuminoids with a more efficient production of active curcuminoids metabolites in comparison to the unformulated ones, opening new perspectives in investigation of curcuminoids’ bioavailability and effectiveness.”

Another perk of branded ingredients—the companies are invested in precisely what they’re making. For instance, de Rensis says that “In 2021, Indena will be celebrating its 100-year anniversary in offering botanicals to improve human health. We’re leveraging our scientific and market expertise to create new programs in sustainability along with DNA testing that identifies and tracks the botanical from farm to finished ingredient.”

Branded ingredients also allow for safer innovation. Sabinsa, for instance, has introduced a new liver health ingredient—LivLonga, a blend of Sabinsa’s Curcumin C3 Complex Turmeric Extract, Livinol Kokum Fruit Extract, and BioPerine Black Pepper Extract. Majeed notes that the combination is protected by US Patent No 10,653,643 for liver protectant compositions and therapeutic applications. And because LivLonga is made up of Sabinsa’s own ingredients, consumers can trust that every part of the product meets Sabinsa’s standards for traceability and sustainability.

Branded ingredients are also a safer way to make use of upcycled ingredients, as they guarantee a level of quality. One example: Hidrox, from Oliphenol. “Dr. Roberto Crea has researched hydroxytyrosol and polyphenols and their health benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet, for over two decades,” the company told WholeFoods. “He recognized an environmental concern with olive oil production and the wastewater, and found a solution to harness the water. Dr. Crea discovered the powerful properties and benefits of hydroxytyrosol, an extremely powerful and potent antioxidant with high free-radical scavenging properties. Hydroxytyrosol is present in olive oil, but in very small amounts. Realizing the majority of the polyphenols were being discarded during the process of making olive oil, he discovered a way to preserve the juice of the olive, which contains 300 times more polyphenols than olive oil.” The juice, the company explains, is typically discarded during the extraction of olive oil. Oliphenol developed a process that removes the olive pit and separates the oil from the juice. The subsequent process produces an extract containing as much as 95% of the active ingredient, now known as Hidrox. “Benefits of Hidrox include improved cardiovascular health, the promotion of antioxidant activity, reduced inflammation, the promotion of joint health and mobility, enhanced immune system, neuroprotection, and minimizing of the damaging effects of free radicals.” And in addition to all of that, materials provided by the company note that Hidrox is certified GRAS by FDA and safe in quantities as high as 2,000mg per kg of body weight; it is standardized; and it is backed by clinical research. Hidrox also holds 20 patents internationally.

Looking to the Future

Where is the industry headed? Our experts—sitting where most industry innovation begins—gave us their thoughts.

“ADM OutsideVoice research found that 31% of consumers are purchasing items tailored for overall health and nutrition,” Ferrell says. “Looking ahead, we expect demand will rise for ingredients aligned with holistic wellness targets such as immunity support, cognitive and mental wellness, sustained energy and beyond to aid big-picture health and wellness goals.”

Nor is that all: Ferrell also sees a future for plants. “ADM recognizes a growing opportunity for plant protein additions in a number of applications, from baked goods and indulgences to nutritional products like sports drinks, meal replacement shakes, supplements, smoothies, and beyond.” ADM has a portfolio of minimally processed chickpeas, lentils, and other beans and pulses, which have the bonus of a low environmental impact.

Something else Melissa Sheridan, Strategic Marketing Director, Applied Health & Nutrition, Kerry, says we can look forward to: New delivery formats. “With consumers seeking more convenient and affordable options to match their busy lifestyles, delivery innovations are gaining attention. In one example, Kerry can provide GanedenBC30, a natural spore-forming probiotic ingredient, in stick packs that can be used for shot addition in various applications. Also, due to the spore-forming nature of GanedenBC30 innovating with shelf-stable applications such as granola is now possible, something few previous probiotic strains were suited to accomplish. GanedenBC30‘s attributes, including a high level of stability, allow it to withstand the majority of manufacturing processes while remaining viable over a product’s shelf life.”

Kerry’s Melissa Muldowney, Strategic Marketing Director, Taste, adds that botanicals should see growth. “Looking ahead, the potential for natural botanical sources of clean-label solutions in foods and beverages is enormous. Since there are more than 300,000 species in the plant kingdom but only 0.1% of plant phytonutrients that have been examined, we foresee much more innovation in this space. Kerry will continue to be a leader in researching and sourcing botanical ingredients that will be of particular interest to food and beverage producers.”

Deerland’s Michini suggests that the future will bring a greater understanding of how interconnected health is. “Managing immunity through managing stress, and the side effects of better sleep and the improved ability to concentrate and focus—this is all intertwined, and stems from how well the digestive tract is functioning.  There is considerably more research being performed to investigate these relationships, and consumers are also learning about the associations – all of this bodes extremely well for product developers and retailers.” Deerland has introduced a portfolio of eight stand-alone products including Mood Support, Immune Support, Cardio Support, and Sleep Support.

Sheridan sums up what she sees as the future for suppliers in this industry: “Consumer demand for authenticity and transparency is driving the food industry to become more discerning about ingredients—and to do some housecleaning of supply chains. Simply put, customers want food they can trust, and are increasingly conscious of the environmental and societal impact of their food choices. This may include searching for locally sourced food, supporting products that are made responsibly, and rewarding manufacturing companies that are making ethical contributions to the community.” This, she says, will lead people to make “paradigm shifts” in their consumption habits. “Additionally, with the increased focus on transparency and ethical production, the industry as a whole is being held to higher and higher standards. This means that any claims made must be backed by real science that satisfies today’s inquisitive consumers—savvy purchasers who are reading labels, checking the accuracy of all claims, and demanding the authenticity they crave.” WF

Education Opportunity: For a deep dive into the microbiome market, on October 20-21, 2020, WholeFoods Magazine and Trust Transparency Center will host a virtual event: Driving Opportunities in the Microbiome Space. This #NaturallyInformed event will provide expert insights on the latest science and technologies driving development, merchandising, and communication strategies, and the inside scoop on what will drive new opportunities in the market. Registration is open now at https://naturallyinformed.net/driving-opportunities-in-the-microbiome-space/.

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