Milk with turmeric, herbal bread, energy drink and what not! Anything and everything sold as immunity boosters are flying off the shelves in Covid-hit times these days. With new and innovative marketing strategies to boost the sale of their products, many companies have adopted the immunity mantra to make the most of the all-pervasive fear arising out of the outbreak of the global pandemic among the consumers.
According to reports, the fear of the deadly contagion has resulted in a staggering 500 per cent spike in the search of the word, ‘immunity’ on Google alone. Every third customer has been ordering an immunity-boosting product on e-commerce websites. In 32 cities of the country, 94 per cent consumers are ready to purchase similar products simply because they are considered to be the most effective tool to combat the virus, which is spreading by leaps and bounds across Indian and elsewhere.
Niranjan Prajapati, a resident of Ghaziabad, sums up the reason behind the surge in the sale of immunity products. “What do we have at our disposal, in the fight against Covid-19? Neither do we have any effective medicine at the moment nor do we have any other cure. No vaccine has been developed yet,” he says. “What can a common man do under such circumstances?”
Based on the advice of experts, Prajapati says, boosting one’s immunity appears to be the only remedy for people like us. “That is why I am doing whatever I can to protect myself,” says Prajapati, who has bought a packet of powder and tea, which he believes are good enough immunity boosters.
Medical experts think such fears of the virus are not abnormal. “A person tries to explore whatever options he or she has under such circumstances,” says Dr Awdhesh Sharma, a psychiatrist. “As far as immunity booster is concerned, it is widely believed across the world that strong immunity can be shield against the highly infectious disease.”
A Google report gives an idea about the rapidly burgeoning market of the so-called immunity boosters. Ayurvedic shrub, giloy (heart-leaved moonseed) and,kadha (herbal decoction) are among the most searched words with 380 and 90 per cent increase. And so is Vitamin C, whose search on Google has gone up by 150 per cent. Hardly surprising then, the manufacturers of immunity-boosting products and medicines are working overtime to launch new products to be able to meet the growing demand.
Two leading dairy brands, Amul and Mother Dairy, have already introduced new products. While Mother Dairy has come up with turmeric milk, Amul has launched milk laced with turmeric, ginger and basil leaves. The Bonn group of bakers also launched a herbal bread. According to experts, these companies apparently think that fresh products will not only lure the customers but also help in consolidating their brand in the market.
Mohit Malhotra, CEO of Dabur India Ltd, says that there has been a sea change in the outlook of the consumers during the Covid-19 pandemic. “There has been a considerable rise in the people’s demand for Ayurveda-based items. There has been a 400 per cent increase in the demand for our Chyawanprash brand,” he says. “Similarly, the sale of honey has gone up by 80 per cent in this period. In fact, such was the demand that we faced difficulties for some time in delivering our products.”
The company has since launched Tulsi drop, Aamla juice, Giloy-Neem-Tulsi juice apart from an immunity kit.
A recent article on a publishing network on the rising demand for such products underlines interesting aspects of the new phenomenon. According to the report, the articles on the recipes for turmeric-based items were the most-read ones on its platform. Its traffic went up by 39 per cent and it recorded 56 lakh page views on immunity alone.
The companies have also altered their advertising drastically in view of the rising demand for immunity products. The ITC has released a promotional song to promote its dairy brand, Ashirwad Swasti. Bisleri has embarked on promoting their popular product of packaged water as being fortified “with extra minerals”. FMCG major Hindustan Unilever Ltd has also re-branded their popular product, Horlicks and started promoting it by adding vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc in the energy-boosting drink. Most of the manufacturers are also promoting their brands on social media in a big way.
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Dr Prashant Gupta, a senior medical practitioner, says that Covid-19 has sent an all-important message across to people as to how important our food habits are in these times? “We have to understand that we cannot remain healthy only with medicines. Our body system works well only with a balanced diet. What we eat and drink and what kind of lifestyle we adopt go a long way in strengthening our immune system,” he says. “That is why our diet should be seen as a medicine. The problem is that a majority of people don’t give much importance to their food habits. If a person makes necessary changes in diet and lifestyle, it will definitely have a positive bearing on the immunity.”
But the mushrooming of the products claiming to boost immunity has raised questions over their efficacy. Already, as many as 152 new companies have applied for registration for manufacturing sanitisers. How can a consumer then be sure that the products he or she is buying is safe?
The Food Safety & Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) sources tell Outlook that the regulating agency has been keeping a close watch on all products being launched or sold in the market. “Besides, if we receive a complaint, we take suitable action,” says an official. "The consumer should also ascertain the details of the FSSAI licence before buying a product.”
That is something a consumer needs to be cautious about while purchasing any item being sold as an immunity booster. It is also the responsibility of the regulator to ensure that no company takes advantage of the Covid-induced fear to manufacture substandard or spurious products to make a fast buck. The battle against Corona cannot be won unless the interests of the consumers are fully protected.