Pandemic triggers demand for immunity-boosting food, tipping market dynamics

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The Covid-19 pandemic is changing food habits in India, and food and dairy companies are getting into the game by launching new products that they say help boost our immune systems to prepare us better to battle the coronavirus, Shampa Bahadur reports.

Boosting immune system has never felt more urgent.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, doctors, health gurus, family elders, borrowing from traditional wisdom, have been advocating the need to step up our immunity to disease to avoid contracting the dreaded coronavirus that has brought the world to a standstill.

In the new normal, even the non-fervent wellness embracers have turned mindful of every micronutrient that can turbocharge good health.

Catering to this growing demand, in the months following the nationwide lockdown, companies have brought out an arsenal of new products or tweaked existing ones to toe the ‘immunity booster’ narrative.

Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF), which markets its products under the Amul brand, recently launched ‘Ginger’ and ‘Tulsi’ milk variants in the market.

At Rs 25, the 125 ml can packs in the goodness of ginger or basil — both known to treat immunological disorders, bacterial and fungal infections.

Amul’s Managing Director R.S. Sodhi said in a statement that since a coronavirus vaccine is still distant, their new milk variants will ensure people have enough immunity to fight the deadly virus till then.

Earlier, Amul had introduced ‘haldi doodh’, or golden milk, following AYUSH ministry’s guidelines recommending consumption people drink it to keep immunity levels high.

Priced at Rs 30 for a 200 ml can, the turmeric in milk contains curcumin, a flavonoid known for its anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Mother Dairy, a leading milk supplier in India’s capital region, also launched butterscotch-flavored haldi milk.

“Made with concentrated turmeric extract, each bottle delivers the same benefit as taking one teaspoon of haldi powder in milk,” Mother Dairy said in a statement.

A leading dairy player in Southern India, Creamline Dairy Products Limited, a subsidiary of Godrej Agrovet, has launched a range of milk products including milk, ghee, paneer etc highlighting the merits of protein to build strength and immunity.

Going with the haldi theme, South India’s top ice-cream brand Dairy Day, is all set to introduce Dairy Day Plus ice cream with two variants – chawyanprash and haldi.

“This is the first time in the icecream industry that haldi is being used. We conceived this concept during the lockdown since everyone now wants to boost immunity,” said A. Balaraju, co-founder of Dairy Day.

Meanwhile, in the last two months Bonn, a baked food company  launched ‘Herb & Seeds’ variant of its bread to ‘boost immunity’ and Del Monte launched ACE, a mixed fruit juice with vitamins and antioxidants to do the same.

ITC also partnered with healthcare brand Amway to launch its B Natural+ range of juices to boost immunity.

India’s Ayurvedic advantage

When it comes to health favouring herbs and spices, India has an advantage.

“We can always dip into our thousand years old Ayurvedic repertoire of herbs and practices, which help to strengthen the immune system and provide protection from common day-to-day infections,” says market consultant, Harish Bijoor.

With consumers increasingly veering towards health-conscious foods and beverages to Covid proof themselves, it is natural that companies are rushing to grab a piece of the pie, especially since businesses have seen a significant downturn during the lockdown.

Market analysts believe that with building defence against the pathogen becoming the new mantra, the focus on nutrition and immunity will be in high demand over regular offerings for a long period of time.  

Today, even as restaurants prepare to reopen after the lockdown, jeera, ajwain, and innovative additions of moringa, zerai, bhuran, raw turmeric, raw mango and ginger in salads and soups are finding their way into newly reworked menus as ‘immunity-boosters’.   

Restaurant owners say that while there was always a section of health conscious consumers, the pandemic has made people more conscious and they are increasingly leaning towards eating healthy, pure and organic which will help build their immunity.

Recently, a sweet shop in Kolkata became popular for introducing, “immunity sandesh’ which incorporates some 15 herbs and spices, including haldi, tulsi, saffron and cardamom and Himalayan honey.

Market analysts also see it as a trend in branding exercise, as companies across various verticals are adding an ‘immunity booster’ layer to their existing communication.

In the last two months, Parle Group’s iconic brand Bisleri advocated drinking adequate water to remain hydrated and to boost immunity with its ‘added minerals’. Hindustan Unilever (HUL) brought out the immunity-boosting benefits of vitamins C and D, and zinc in its advertisement for Horlicks.

ITC Ltd. too launched ‘The Immunity Song’ for its dairy brand Aashirvaad Svasti. Meanwhile, Tupperware published content around immunity building on its social handles.  

However, not everyone is happy about the excessive use of the “immunity booster” tag on products and advertisements.

Health experts say it is important to understand that immunity is not built in a day. It doesn’t happen over with a pill, or a glass of water, or ‘haldi’ milk. Brands need to understand this and not exploit the fear among consumers over the virus.

Shampa Bahadur has been a business journalist for more than two decades. She has written for Business India, PTI Media TransAsia and India Infrastructure Publication Ltd among others. She has also written coffee table books. She can be reached at shampa@indoasiancommodities.in

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