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Overdose of immunity-related food products a marketing gimmick in COVID times

Amid rising coronavirus cases and the world still waiting for a vaccine, food brands today are riding the wave of 'immunity boosting products' led by consumer demand

Sonal Khetarpal | August 6, 2020 | Updated 15:53 IST
Overdose of immunity-related food products a marketing gimmick in COVID times

The beverage company Coca Cola recently made its foray into the immunity space by launching two new variants under its Minute Maid brand - Vita Punch and Nutri Force.  

Minute Maid Vita Punch is a fruit cocktail that claims to provide daily requirement of Vitamin C to support immunity. Minute Maid Nutriforce is apple juice with iron, zinc and other essential vitamins.

Food brands today are riding the wave of 'immunity boosting products' led by consumer demand.  As the world waits for a COVID-19 vaccine, people are trying to cope by what they can do best - by building their body's resilience. The word immunity has captured consumers' imagination and the category awareness has increased dramatically in the last few months. A recent Nielsen report said that immunity was one of the key factors that influenced consumers' purchasing decisions.

"Earlier the word immunity was associated with preventive medication or home remedies, such as with items like chyavanprash, churans or kadha made from different herbs," says Ankur Bisen Ankur Bisen, Senior Vice President - Retail and Consumer Products, Technopak.

Now the word is used very loosely, something like the word digital. "Immunity is the new digital. The word is being used with all kinds of food products," says Bisen.

He explains that food brands are interpreting the word 'immunity' from the perspective of their product portfolio and making new launches. They are suddenly changing the product introduction, launching variants or developing new products that have a strong immunity angle so they can offer relevance to the consumer.

There are those like Emami and Dabur that have a direct connect with immunity, and there are many others who don't but are exploiting it in their product portfolio, says Bisen.

No wonder the line of immunity-related products that have entered the market in recent times is quite long. Gujarat-based Amul introduced Haldi ice cream, Haldi Doodh, Ginger Doodh and Tulsi Doodh. ITC Foods along with Amway launched immunity boosting juices under B-Natural Plus brand. Hindustan Unilever launched an immunity-building variant of Horlicks, which promises to have Vitamins C & D as well as zinc. Punjab-based Bonn Group launched herb and seeds bread, which the company claims contain immunity-boosting ingredients such as turmeric, oregano and black pepper.

Harminder Sahni, Founder and Managing Director of consulting firm Wazir Advisors, says that the core of any food product is to provide two things: energy and immunity. "Any beverage or food item is supposed to meet both these functions anyways. There shouldn't have been a need for a crisis like COVID-19 to get firms to revamp their offerings. If it were such a case, then it means they were not true to their purpose earlier."

"What brands should be saying is we have been selling what you should be eating and drinking to maintain good health. A food company should be true to that all the time," says Sahni.

He questions the brands' move to jump on the immunity bandwagon and losing their uniqueness. "Everybody is talking about the same thing so where does the uniqueness lie. How are you going to stand out?," he asks.

"It is all marketing if you ask me. People who have bigger marketing budgets are just making more noise about it," says Sahni.

ALSO READ: BT BUZZ: How Indian consumers are going the extra mile to build immunity

ALSO READ: Russia claims its COVID-19 vaccine is ready for rollout in September

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