Meanwhile, as the world waits to come out of hibernation, the full impact this public health crisis will have on the global economy remains far from certain. Experts have noted a surge in stockpiling of dietary supplements reflects the value consumers place on these products. But what impact would an economic downturn have on innovation?
The coronavirus may be changing how people manage their health from several perspectives, according to Brian Appell, OmniActive Health Technologies. “COVID-19 represents a shift from a seasonal concern to something more persistent. Immune formulas like vitamin C or elderberry always rise during the flu season but begin to wane as the season changes. COVID-19 represents something more persistent and therefore highlights a greater need to stay healthy year-round.”
He also called COVID-19 “an existential threat” that’s compelling people to think seriously about how they can better manage their health naturally.
Social isolation is also changing behaviors that could affect other areas of health not related to immunity. For example, Nielsen estimated the use of digital devices has basically doubled as people have been forced to stay at home.
The surge in screen time calls for increased vision protection, especially for children whose eyes are still developing and may be exposed to higher levels of harmful blue light, Appell said.
“OmniActive has been touting the benefits of the macular carotenoids and Lutemax 2020 as a frontline defense against prolonged blue light exposure, but perhaps this is even more relevant now that we are relying on these devices to keep us connected. And we have the science to support it. OmniActive’s B.L.U.E. study was the first study to show that lutein and zeaxanthin isomers in Lutemax 2020 can help reduce the short-term effects of prolonged blue light exposures (e.g., reducing eye strain and fatigue and headache frequency).”
Given the immediate surge in sales for dietary supplements in response to COVID-19, Lisa Riedell, Alfasigma, said it’s clear that consumers have become more generally aware of their health. “The immune health category has become one of the greatest indicators, as interest in ingredients such as zinc, vitamin C, etc. has skyrocketed. We anticipate that this interest will extend to other healthy aging concerns such as cognitive health, weight management, and heart health over the short term.”
Currently-available data suggest individuals with pre-existing chronic health conditions are at higher risk of developing serious illness as a result of COVID-19 infection, noted Lisa Pitchford, Metabolic Technologies, LLC, meaning maintenance of good health is even more critical.
“There is also the potential for the coronavirus pandemic to negatively impact some consumers’ health, even if they are not infected. The public health measures being undertaken to control the spread of the coronavirus, while critical, may have consequences for overall health and well-being of some consumers. Staying home can lead to reduced physical activity, less access to fresh high-quality foods, and social isolation, all of which can negatively impact the health areas consumers are concerned with. For example, physical activity is important for cardiovascular health, weight maintenance, and muscle health, and even short-term reductions in physical activity can have substantial consequences.”
Nutritional products and dietary supplements can help mitigate some of these effects, she said. For example, “β-hydroxy β-methylbutyrate (HMB) supplementation has been shown to protect against some of the negative effects of reduced physical activity. In a study of healthy older adults, supplementation with HMB prevented muscle loss during short-term inactivity (10 days bed rest) and enhanced muscle mass improvements when physical activity resumed. HMB also has beneficial effects on muscle health in adults recovering from surgery, another scenario often associated with reducing physical activity patterns.”
Chronological age alone does not determine how people fare against serious health threats like COVID-19, noted Jia Zhang Lee, Davos Life Science Sdn. Bhd. “For example, an 80-year old who is otherwise healthy and not frail might be more resilient in fighting off infection than a 60-year-old with many chronic conditions. I think this experience is helping people to realize that maintaining the body in optimal health as we age is crucial.”
Overall, the COVID-19 pandemic has compelled consumers to take charge of their health, said Marianne McDonagh, Bioenergy Life Science (BLS). “Moving forward, there is a great overlap between the action of a virus and the action of generalized age-related stress. We should educate consumers on these similarities, so they may prioritize appropriate measures.”
Viral agents act by suppressing enzymes, McDonagh continued. “In the case of the coronavirus, it inhibits the enzyme responsible for modulating the inflammatory ‘off switch,’ and the cascade of inflammation tends to continue unabated. It spreads to other tissues, becoming a systemic infection. The body’s metabolic status, determined by nutritional status, is the key to preventing any kind of infection, viral or otherwise.”
Inflammation in aging is similar, but it involves different and additional mitigating factors over a longer period of time. “Likewise, the similar goal is to manage the body’s metabolic status by paying closer attention to nutritional status. We know that increased ATP levels, which can be accomplished with Bioenergy Ribose and RiaGev supplementation, is associated with reduced signs of inflammation.”
From a supply chain perspective, Chris Fields, Applied Food Sciences Inc, noted the sudden surge in demand for health and wellness products has presented challenges. “Manufacturers are responding quickly to try and meet this demand, and as an ingredient supplier, we are noticing the trickle-down effects at this time. The requests for our organic vitamin C ingredient has been extremely high, forcing us to alter our inventory estimates.”
At the same time, in a complex global supply chain for dietary supplement ingredients, even as China begins to emerge from lockdown and ramp up production again, logistical issues may persist for months.
“As the entire industry responds to try and support the market, it is important that we do so responsibly, without compromising the quality and safety of our ingredients or products,” said Fields. “AFS is committed to adhering to the same integrity while we diligently support our supply partners around the world.”
Impact on Innovation
In a span of just 4 weeks, 22 million people in the U.S. filed for unemployment. With non-essential businesses shuttered, the full extent of the economic fallout remains unclear. In a sharp economic downturn, experts noted potential implications for innovation, research and development.
“In addition to the economic impacts, the social distancing guidelines put in place to limit the spread of coronavirus will also affect R&D,” said Pitchford. “Many preclinical and nearly all clinical research studies have been suspended in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The sudden suspension of studies will inevitably delay the completion of these studies and will likely complicate the interpretation of results.”
However, resilient companies don’t stop innovating, according to Shaheen Majeed, Sabinsa. “With consumers prioritizing their health on a greater scale, I see smart brands responding to that need without delay. Brands working hard to meet the sudden increase in orders might push back launch dates on new products for a short time, but will still bring them to market.”
Appell said the pandemic may slow the actual day-to-day functions of R&D, but the goal of many companies will be to try to preserve those functions, “because it is innovation that drives growth and competitive advantage.”
Nutrition and health products generally perform well even in tough economic times, as people value and invest in their own health, said Francesca de Rensis, Indena. “At Indena, we continue to invest heavily in ingredient research across many health conditions knowing that sound science is paramount to biological effectiveness.”
Guy Woodman, Euromed, noted that with greater demand comes greater pressure on purchasing staff, quality control, and manufacturing personnel. “At times like this, there is diminished motivation to introduce new products due to the focus on supporting the existing product line.”
Leading herbal supplement firms still seek ingredients with attributes like third-party certifications that can be communicated to the consumer, Woodman said. For example, Euromed recently introduced a line of products called Earth Harmony Organic Extracts with several immune enhancing botanicals including Echinacea, olive leaf, and rosemary extracts. “These products have a high value proposition with guaranteed sustainability, traceability, and low environmental impact,” he said.
Shane Durkee, Lonza, said the company continues to invest in and champion “consumer-driven product design, based on real-world insight, comprehensive research and robust science.”
“This enables us to proactively design new supplement solutions that meet a real, emerging, or unaddressed consumer need,” he noted. “Product innovation can come from several routes: innovation in ingredients, innovation in formulation (for example new combinations), innovation in delivery technology (for example our Lipid Multi-Particulate technology), or in capsule polymer innovation (such as pullulan).”
In these uncertain times, consumer-driven product design is even more essential, Durkee added. “Aligning with consumer needs through science-backed, high-quality products should always be the aim—whether developing new ingredient, formulations, capsule technologies, or polymers.”
Product innovation for branded ingredients proven by science is a top priority at BLS, according to McDonagh. “This is how BLS was founded and something we continue to insist on today. It’s reassuring to see this evolution within this industry. Most product development in our space is designed to buttress the metabolic pathways most critical to reducing the effects of chronic stress and the age-related decline of various features of life. We know that most long-lived species have the lowest levels of antioxidant enzymes, low rates of free radical production, and high efficiency of DNA repair. Enhancing the efficiency of cellular energy networks is the most broadly applicable approach to product design.”
Product innovation in the field of healthy aging is a broad category but remains one of great public interest, said Riedell. “For MitoCarn, the focus will remain on providing effective strategies in the erosion of cellular health, which is at the root of the aging process. We will remain focused on our mission of providing the highest quality L-carnitine solutions. These solutions optimize mitochondrial function by providing continuous energy to the body, antioxidant protection for cells, support for lean energy production while minimizing cellular waste during the ATP process, and helping to manage the body’s cellular aging process.”
Tim Hammond, Bergstrom Nutrition, noted that when it comes to aging well, mobility equals independence. “If we as an industry keep that simple equation in mind, it should drive innovation for products focused on how to keep people active and healthy. Beyond mobility, strategies to improve strength, muscle mass, and cognitive function should receive strong consideration.”
Lee predicted an economic slowdown resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic will adversely affect the industry’s R&D processes, “as companies will be looking to safeguard their bottom line and rein in their overhead spending.”
In terms of tocotrienols, there is still plenty of room for product innovation, particularly in functional foods and beverages, he added. “Tocotrienols are lipid-soluble compounds, and so incorporating this ingredient across different food products and beverages that are typically aqueous-based is challenging at the moment. Product innovations that allow clear-beverage applications and colorless applications of tocotrienols are examples of what would be appealing to most manufacturers, which will help to extend the range of products that they can apply tocotrienols to.”