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Immunity matters

In unpredictable times, Canadians are focused on looking after their health

One of the most influential fables I was told as a kid was the story of The Three Little Pigs. It is, of course, a simple story with a clear lesson, which is to do your best to be prepared. While the story is meant to be a children's tale, it continues to hold relevance for adults, too.

The importance of being prepared has perhaps never been more important than it is today. The uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought to the world shows how unpredictable things can become in short order. We were caught flat-footed as the pandemic took hold, and this drove home the importance of preparing for the unexpected. For many Canadians, this is true in terms of both their finances and their health.

New viruses are emerging frequently and as the planet’s population grows, the potential for new zoonotic diseases—diseases transmitted from animals to humans—increases. This concern, along with COVID-19 mutating into different variants, means it is exceedingly difficult to predict whether we’ll have to endure another pandemic in our lifetime. Faced with such uncertainty, the importance of looking after one’s own health has become more important. Immunity, for instance, is gaining attention.

At Mintel, our research shows that Canadians are looking to boost their immunity through the food they eat. A third of Canadians say they have become stricter about making healthy choices for themselves since the pandemic began. And in a separate question, half of the Canadians we surveyed stated they are “more interested in boosting their immunity through food (than they were) a year ago” (as of September 2020). For consumers, making food and drink choices to boost their immunity is a part of being prepared for potential future events.

Of course, outright immunity to COVID-19 or any virus cannot be provided by what we eat or drink; only vaccines can achieve such a thing. That said, much has been written about the impact of comorbidities (two or more medical conditions existing simultaneously) such as obesity and diabetes, and how they have led to worse outcomes among those who have been infected with the COVID-19 virus. Preliminary studies also show that those who exercise regularly have fared better in the pandemic.

How should makers of food and drink respond? Mintel’s global research team has identified multiple products enriched with vitamins, folic acids, minerals and probiotics to support people’s immune systems. Consumer packaged goods companies must tread carefully and not make claims that over-promise; focusing on how a product can support the body’s natural immunity offers a more nuanced approach. Suffice it to say, local regulatory considerations need to be considered with any product claims that are made.

The launch of Kellogg’s Special K Immune Support cereal in the United Kingdom, picked up by Mintel in February 2020 (just before the pandemic) is an example of how this prominent brand put immunity into focus in this market. The packaging for this cereal that highlights “nutrients that matter” to “support normal function of the immune system” added further context to the positioning.

We can’t know what the next decade, year or even week has in store for us. Regardless, if the events of 2020 and 2021 have taught us anything, it’s the importance of being prepared, particularly from the perspective of one’s personal health. In this regard, the lessons The Three Little Pigs taught us continue to have implications well into adulthood, particularly when we’re unsure of which way “the wind will blow.”

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