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

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

From chyavanprash, honey and turmeric to ayurvedic juices, breakfast mixes and vitamin enriched cooking oil, Indian food companies are aggressively innovating to meet the growing demand for immunity-building food products

The health foods category (which would include energy drinks such as Horlicks, chyavanprash, juices etc) would be in the region of Rs 5,000-6,000 crore The health foods category (which would include energy drinks such as Horlicks, chyavanprash, juices etc) would be in the region of Rs 5,000-6,000 crore

Did you know that the sale of the humble turmeric or haldi has surged by over 40 per cent on e-commerce platforms in the last few months? Curcumin, the most important ingredient in turmeric is known for its immunity boosting properties and this explains why consumers are generously spending on haldi at a time when immunity is the biggest concern. Consuming haldi-doodh (turmeric milk), a popular home remedy for cold or a kadha made out of haldi, honey and tulsi has become a morning ritual in many Indian homes in the last few months. Food brands are also latching on to this trend. Amul has launched turmeric milk, while Dabur has launched Dabur Haldi Drops, and Tata Consumer Products is aggressively promoting the health benefits of its Tata Sampann Haldi. "We have seen a spike in sales," says Richa Arora, President Packaged Foods (India), Tata Consumers Products.

It's not just turmeric, there is a surge in sales in honey, fruit juices and chyavanprash too. A recent Nielsen report says that chyavanprash sales have increased by 283 per cent (traditional and modern trade) in June, while the sales of honey in modern trade surged by 39 per cent. A product like honey which used to be 9 per cent of a consumer's shopping bill, is now upwards of 15 per cent, according to Snapbizz. Similarly, fruit juices which comprised about 22 per cent of a consumer's shopping bill has increased to about 30 per cent.  These juices are not necessarily popular choices such as orange or mixed fruit, even amla juice has enough takers. A shot of amla juice every morning is also considered a great way to build immunity.  "There is an awakening towards healthy and immunity building food products. The number of merchants stocking honey, for instance, has dramatically gone up," says Prem Kumar, Founder, Snapbizz.

Immunity building or health products, which was under 10 per cent of most food companies' portfolio is now an integral part of their offerings, says Former Dabur COO (currently Managing Partner, Fireside Ventures), Kannan Sitaram. The health foods category (which would include energy drinks such as Horlicks, chyavanprash, juices etc) would be in the region of Rs 5,000-6,000 crore. Sitaram expects this category to grow by 40-50 per cent in the medium to long-term.

Sitaram is surprised that a product like chyavanprash, which only sold during the winter months has done so well during the peak of summer. "The ingredients of chyavanprash are believed to heat the body and most companies found it difficult to sell the product during the summer month. It has sold like hot cakes during the summer months, which shows consumers' increasing concern for immunity. Earlier, immunity building products catered to either kids or senior citizens, now people across age groups are looking for immunity."

Mohit Malhotra, CEO, Dabur, says that his company has increased production of products such as chyavanprash and honey. "We are ensuring uninterrupted supplies of these products to consumers across the country. On the other hand, we have strengthened our health and hygiene portfolio with the introduction of a range of new products to meet the growing consumer need for immunity and personal and household hygiene."   

Innovations Galore

Consumer products companies are trying to capitalise on this trend on a war-footing. Hindustan Unilever, after completing the merger of GSK Consumer, has launched an immunity-building variant of Horlicks, which promises to have Vitamins C & D as well as Zinc. ITC has partnered with Amway to launch a range of immunity building juices. Amul has launched haldi, tulsi and ginger milk, all of which are popular immunity boosting home remedies. Similarly, Emami in the last three months has rolled out as many as 15 immunity boosting supplements under its brand, Zandu. The products include  Zandu Giloy, Zandu Ayush Kwath Powder and Zandu Amlaki among others. "Our immunity building products have seen a 3X growth. Consumers have finally started taking immunity products seriously. Moreover, with a vaccine for Coronavirus a still a while away, immunity building food products are becoming a way of life," points out Harsha Vardhan Agarwal, Director, Emami.

Dabur's all new immunity portfolio includes products such as tulsi drops, haldi drops, amla juice and giloy-neem tulsi juice. Though launched during the lockdown months, Malhotra says that these products were already in the pipeline. However, COVID ensured that they were fast-tracked.

Healthy Staples

The immunity-building product innovations are limited not just to chyavanprash, honey or juices. Emami Agrotech has launched Emami Healthy & Tasty Smart Balance Immunity Booster Oil, which claims to have five immunity boosting vitamins such as vitamin A-B-C-D as well as Omega 3. Aditya Agarwal, Owner, Emami Group of Companies, claims this is the first time an immunity boosting edible oil has been launched in the market. "While our competitors have oils for the heart, none of them talk about immunity. COVID symptoms are related to immunity and if the nutritional level in your body is high, your immunity will also be high," he explains.

Arora of TCPL says that Tata Sampann right from inception has been positioned as everyday nourishing food for the modern Indian plate. "When we launched our range of spices in 2017, we changed the category narrative. Till then masalas were just about taste, we started educating consumers about the therapeutic properties and health benefits of various masalas." She says that the COVID crisis has further strengthened the brand's health focus. "Consumers too are rediscovering not just overall cooking, but also traditional Indian food, which is unprocessed, full of nutrients. People are realising that it is a natural way to build immunity and good health," she further adds.

Bread lovers can also choose from a variety of healthy breads apart from multigrain bread. Ludhiana-headquartered, Bonn Group, has launched the NU Health range of breads, which include variants such as Herb & Seeds, Active Heart, Active Nutrition & Digestive Balance; all of which provide a mix of vitamins, protein, iron and a host of other nutrients. "In order to boost the immune system to fight the Coronavirus pandemic, we have added essential ingredients like turmeric, black pepper, oregano, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. Turmeric helps in regulating the immune system and quick healing. Oregano contains compounds like carvacrol and thymol that help boost the immune system, Black pepper has anti-oxidant properties, pumpkin seeds are a rich source of omega-6 fatty acids and sunflower seeds contain selenium which controls cell damage," says Amrinder Singh, Director, Bonn Group of Industries.


A scion of the Baidyanth family, Ameve Sharma, Co-Founder, Kapiva Ayurveda, says that his two-year old Ayurvedic food brand has witnessed an over 100 per cent growth ever since the outbreak of the pandemic. Sharma says that Indians are finally looking at Ayurveda in the right perspective. "India has never had a preventive mindset when it comes to healthcare, it has always been curative. Lot of people turn to Ayurveda, after allopathy, but Ayurveda was never meant to be curative. Majority of Ayurveda is how you live your daily life, how do you stay healthy and not fall sick as opposed to falling sick," he explains.

Though Kapiva's Ayurvedic juices, honey and ghee are gaining popularity, Sharma shortly plans to launch Ayurvedic breakfast mixes that would contain whole grains, oats, barley, tulsi, turmeric and amla. "The idea is to incorporate Ayurveda into one's daily lifestyle. We are trying to make it convenient for people to consume Ayurveda and build their immunity," says Sharma.

On the other hand, Evocus H2O, a brand of black alkaline bottled water is yet another immunity boosting product in the multi-functional water category that has been generating interest among high end consumers. Enriched with over 70 minerals, Evocus claims to reduce acidity and keeps one hydrated longer. "It also flushes toxins which come through food and vegetables and regulates the PH of water," says Akash Vaghela, Founder, AV Organics.

The COVID scare has definitely heightened demand for these immunity building food and beverage products. But will this demand sustain? "People at the beginning of the crisis bought immunity building products to fire-fight, but as they move ahead they will find a logical reason to invest in immunity products," says Agarwal, Director, Emami Group. Kapiva's Sharma believes that post COVID the numbers may not be as high, but people are building habits of consuming healthy. "They are open to the habit of consuming an Ayurvedic juice in the morning. Some people may drop off, but for many of them it will become a habit."