Beverage Manufacturers in Asia Pacific Tap into Demand for Immune Support

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has led to people re-evaluating consumption habits and attitudes towards the way they eat and drink. This includes taking vitamins and supplements to boost immunity and reduce the risk of falling ill. Beverage manufacturers in Asia Pacific have leveraged this growing health consciousness by launching product variants which include micronutrients like vitamins, which serve to increase white blood cell production, or probiotics which serve to improve one’s gut health.

While it is difficult to gauge the true market size of beverages consumed for immune support, as categories such as juice might not make a direct claim to this on their packaging, key categories include juice and kombucha. In fact, the market size for health and wellness in 100% juice in Asia Pacific is forecast at USD6.9 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow by a 4% CAGR, at constant 2020 prices, between 2020 to 2025.

Range of immunity-boosting beverages expands in Asia Pacific

Juice remains the most popular and widespread category positioned to boost consumers’ immunity, due to its health perception as containing vitamins. Within Asia Pacific, retail value sales are forecast at USD25.1 billion in 2020, and it is set to grow by 2% CAGR, at constant 2020 prices between 2020 to 2025.

Alongside vitamins, herbal ingredients have been incorporated into juice, such as curcumin and ginger. In 2020, in Thailand, QminC juice incorporated curcumin, lemon (for vitamin C) and other vitamins, offering consumers immunity-boosting benefits. Similarly, Tipco Fruity Mix Ginger and Carrot Juice were introduced in May 2020, containing vitamin C to improve immunity. Juice smoothies have also emerged, including Tropicana Essential Plus in Japan, TH True Juice Smoothies in Vietnam and NutriSari Mango Smoothie in Indonesia (which are available in packaged ready-to-drink formats), highlighting the benefits of vitamins and natural ingredients.

Moreover, beverages with immunity-boosting properties have expanded beyond the traditional categories of juice or kombucha. Over the review period, we have seen functional waters being promoted highlighting health benefits. Ichitan Group’s PH Plus 8.5 not only contains alkaline water but a mixture of vitamins C, for example. Check Cin Dawn Rice Water in Hong Kong is another notable case – a product which features red rice, white rice and coix seeds, suggested to help improve digestive health and skin conditions.

Asian consumers more focussed on health

The formulation of beverages with greater emphasis on vitamin content reflects the shift in Asian consumers’ attitudes towards their health. According to Euromonitor’s Health and Nutrition Survey conducted in January to February 2020, at least 40% of respondents across China, South Korea, India, Thailand and Indonesia agree that vitamins are important for their overall health and nutrition.

Moreover, the addition of herbal ingredients in beverages, which have traditionally been seen as a form of medicine, further emphasises beverages’ health appeal. Besides health, product taste, affordability and availability are obviously necessary to boost volume sales and broaden consumer appeal.

We have also seen a greater shift towards beverages with probiotics. While probiotics have been traditionally associated with dairy products like drinking yoghurt, ready-to-drink beverages have been innovative, incorporating probiotics to help digestive health. This includes RTD tea and kombucha. Although this remains limited at present, such drinks are expected to be more prominent in the next wave in product innovation, as consumers become more health-conscious.

In Asia Pacific, niche kombucha brands are emerging as consumers become more aware of digestive health benefits. These include Three Goats Brewery from Thailand, 1980 Boom Cha Brew Kombucha and WonderBrew Kombucha from Malaysia. The latter company started its operations in November 2018, and is seeking to expand to appeal to consumers’ taste, and extend availability. This includes introducing localised flavours such as passionfruit spearmint and butterfly pea lemongrass. Similarly, in RTD tea, brands such as South Korea’s Kwang Dong Pharm’s Prebiotics Jerusalem Artichoke Tea, and Nestea Green Tea Fibre in Singapore, which contains jasmine green tea and fibre, are positioned to aid gut health and boost immunity. Even functional waters such as iMuse in Japan and Jianlibao Wei Pao Water in China have incorporated dietary fibre in their products.

Product innovations around immunity support increasing

Product innovation that serves to boost immunity has been increasing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we have seen several regulatory bodies for food and beverages highlighting the importance of misleading health claims being attached to products. For instance, the Health Ministry in Singapore highlighted that any claim made in relation to COVID-19 should be supported by appropriate scientific evidence. It is important for manufacturers to promote such immune-supporting beverages responsibly.

Moreover, ongoing understanding of consumer health needs and tastes is important for such immunity-boosting beverages to thrive in the long term post-pandemic. Young, urban and educated consumers in Asia Pacific are expected to be early adopters, and it is vital to target this group for success. Moreover, new and unique ingredients beyond vitamin C or even probiotics associated with immune support are expected to grow, especially in the area of herbal ingredients like ginseng or dietary fibre like inulin.

To learn more, access the report: Immune Support after the Coronavirus: Drinks and Tonics