Amid lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders, there was increased demand for shelf-stable products like pasta, cereals, and canned foods that can be easily used for preparing meals at home by consumers who may not be used to cooking for themselves.
Bored at home in self-isolation, consumers also turned to snacks for comfort and discovered their passion for baking their own bread, leading to temporary shortages of flour and yeast.
Companies producing in-demand foodstuffs such as Kellogg’s or Nestlé experienced an unprecedented spike in sales, while other less fortunate manufacturers like distilleries saw opportunity elsewhere and repurposed their facilities to the production of hand sanitizer.
Some supplement brands, especially immune health products, and manufacturers of probiotics or functional foods, could barely keep up with consumer demand. Elsewhere, supply chains were impacted by the loss of seasonal workers from other countries as a consequence of travel restrictions, the effects of which are yet to fully materialize.
Regulators have their hands full keeping in check an upsurge of products claiming to prevent or cure coronavirus, warning companies not to make misleading immunity claims that would constitute unauthorized health claims.
As the crisis progressed, it became apparent that COVID-19 was more likely to affect people not only advanced in age or with severe underlying diseases, but also persons with non-clinical or sub-clinical conditions such as vitamin D deficiency or obesity. The status of immunity-promoting micronutrients such as vitamin C or selenium also rose to the forefront of interest.
Consequently, demand for immunity-promoting supplements and medicinal products is keeping steady, mostly satisfied through online sales as many consumers are still staying home rather than visiting their local pharmacies. Brick-and-mortar pharmacies, therefore, are seeing a decline in sales, while Internet pharmacy sales soar.
Not all kinds of food supplements are profiting from the crisis, though. As consumers’ disposable income is being affected by job loss, furlough, or reduced work hours, they concentrate their spending on products considered immediately necessary—i.e., immunity-promoting supplements. In the face of the immediate threat, other health concerns that normally fuel the supplement industry are currently receding into the background.
Obesity & Junk Food
The food industry is also under scrutiny with questions regarding the prevalence of obesity in the population and its link to increased probability of severe cases of COVID-19. Easy availability of highly processed, calorie-dense foods at any time for low cost is arguably at the root of the obesity epidemic and has been criticized accordingly before.
In these trying times, what before only led to metabolic syndrome and its complex of long-term health consequences now poses an immediate threat to lives. Being overweight may mean the difference between shrugging off COVID-19 relatively easily, or having to be put on a ventilator, always with a risk of permanent damage to lungs and other tissues. The problem may now even be exacerbated as consumers stuck at home turn to comfort foods to fight pandemic-related anxieties while exercising even less than they did before.
However, together with increased demand for functional, healthy food and immunity-promoting supplements due to the current crisis, consumers may hopefully find a new awareness that being fit and healthy is not just conformation to some abstract ideal, but in fact quite vital. With luck, this awareness and its accompanying changes in purchasing decisions will persist beyond the current pandemic.
That will not be enough, though, if the food industry does not do its part by making calorie-dense junk food less easily available and/or more expensive than healthy alternatives. A re-thinking of junk food versus more nutritionally valuable foods, often demanded by health professionals, seems inevitable, if industrialized nations wish to emerge from this pandemic without substantial losses of consumers.
analyze & realize ag
Dr. Joerg Gruenwald is co-founder of analyze & realize GmbH, a specialized business consulting company and CRO in the fields of nutraceuticals, dietary supplements, herbals and functional food, and author of the PDR for Herbal Medicines. He can be reached at analyze & realize GmbH, Waldseeweg 6, 13467 Berlin, Germany; +49-30-40008100; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Website: www.analyze-realize.com.