14 December 2020

Immunity in 2020

Immunity is a heavy word in 2020, but once the initial concern over being seen to capitalise on a pandemic waned, we have seen swathes of ‘immune benefit’ adorned products come to market.

In reality, supplements and the nutritional benefits of food and drink have been stirring in interest for some time but this year, for obvious reasons, they have really come to the fore. 

A global survey in 2019 by FMCG Gurus found that 53% of consumers said they had looked to make changes to their diet and lifestyle to top-up their immunity1. While in February this year, sales of vitamins and supplements soared 19.5% to £48.5m largely driven by consumers hunting down an immune boost2. So often we see categories latch onto something new, like protein or most recently CBD, and it’s easy to see immunity continuing to be the key FMCG conversation for 2021. 

We’re digging into the vast array of immunity products to see how the trend is taking shape. 

1. Diversity

What was once the reserve of orange juice and Vitamin C, immune boosting properties are now being assigned to a wide range of ingredients and products. While the humble OJ has still been one of this year’s best performing commodities3, everyone from vitamin pimped CBD to turmeric soup and beauty products are claiming immune system help. But with such diverse products touting the same benefits, it’s difficult to know where to start and there’s a risk it will become white noise. 

Immunity - examples of Diversity

2. Immunity & the gut

Our immune system is also intrinsically linked to gut health. In fact, 70% of the body’s immune cells are found in the gut4. The likes of Kombucha, Kefir and other pre and probiotic products have long promoted their benefits to the immune system but have now made it front and centre in communications. Kefir brand, Biotiful Dairy, has embraced the opportunity and launched a range of shots containing other immunity-promoting ingredients such as turmeric and acerola cherry, in addition to its gut-friendly live cultures.

3. Fighting talk

Visually, brands are taking different approaches, from protection to fighting. ‘Defence’ appears to be the creative inspiration for many, with products such as Tetley’s Super Green Tea Immune and Sainsbury’s Immune Support yoghurt drinks all opting for shield symbols to communicate protection. This makes sense given our immune system acts as a preventative to illness. In contrast, vitamin brand ‘Fight Vitamins’ uses loud colour and bold typeface to illustrate a proactive, combative approach to warding off illness.

Immunity - Fighting talk

4. Nature vs science

As expected, food products use more natural cues when representing their immune credentials. The focus is on the whole ingredient, whether that be the fruit or grains in which the essential immune boosting vitamins can be found. The vitamin and supplement category tends toward a more science approach. Clean whites, cellular structures and illustrated iconography are the codes of this category.

Immunity - Nature vs science

5. Hands tied

When it comes to communicating the exact benefit to the health of our immune system, it gets a little tricky for brands. ASA guidance prevents any claims in relation to the ‘prevention or cure’ of any disease beyond those approved for specific ingredients. So, a product containing Vitamin C can only claim it ‘contributes toward’ or ‘supports’ a healthy immune system. Many brands get around this by calling the product itself ‘Immunity’ or ‘Immune’ helping to draw attention to the key benefit and allowing for a more impactful message. 

So, what’s next? 

Immune health is not a trend which is likely going away. Far from a fad, the pandemic has simply accelerated its importance in the consumer mind, not exaggerated. The gut health and immune system link are going to continue to be of particular importance, with both Yakult and 4D Pharma having patents pending for the use of products in this area5.

As the science develops and we begin to understand more, consumer interest will continue to grow, and products will become more sophisticated. Now is the time for brands to move and ask themselves if they can innovate in this area to increase brand relevance and appraisal. It’s certainly something we’re exploring in many NPD innovation programmes as a key platform for growth. But a clear strategy is important to not appear to be ‘jumping on the bandwagon’. NPD must play in the gaps and be meaningful to be successful. Education and clear on-pack messaging will also be vital to getting noticed in such a diverse category. 


  1. FMCG Gurus, Consumer attitudes towards the immune system, March 2020 
  2. The Grocer, Immunity to your door: healthcare & supplements category 2020
  3. BBC News, Why orange juice prices are soaring on global markets, March 2020 
  4. Eve Kalanik, Happy gut, Happy mind: how the state of your gut affects your mental health, Evening Standard, September 2020 
  5. Mintel, Covid-19 boosts demand for immune-health products, June 2020 

Tessa Hill