By Heather Deering, Registered Nutritionist at HRS Communications 
 
The coronavirus pandemic has dominated the majority of 2020, affecting almost every area of our lives. As a result, the health priorities of consumers are evolving. In our digital world, the sheer volume of information - often contradictory - can be overwhelming. 
 
As a result of the pandemic, many people have a new or increased interest in looking after their health and wellbeing. In this blog, we explore how food, nutrition, and medical nutrition companies can keep up with shifting priorities and how we have helped our own clients adapt to the ‘new normal’. 

Immune Boosting? 

Immunity is an area that has received renewed interest as consumers seek to protect themselves from coronavirus. Historically, it’s a topic which is often tainted by pseudoscience. By ensuring that consumer and healthcare professional (HCP) messaging is simple, scientific and reputable, companies can tackle the spread of misinformation and establish themselves as a voice of authority. 
 
Our client AYMES (a medical nutrition company) launched a webinar on optimising immunity during winter for older adults - a topic that is sure to attract much attention as we head towards the colder months. Similarly, our client Symprove for Professionals worked with our team of Registered Dietitians and Health Writers to develop an informative article on the gut microbiome and immunity

Weight Loss 

The realisation that people living with obesity have a significantly increased risk of death from COVID-19 compared with those of a healthy weight has meant intentional weight loss has become a priority for a considerable number of people. 
 
Inspired by Boris Johnson’s intensive care admission for COVID, the government launched its new ‘Better Health’ campaign, encouraging millions of Britons to lose weight and reduce their COVID risk. Companies have an opportunity to get involved in these efforts. As part of their obesity strategy, the government has pledged that calorie counts will appear on menus to help consumers make healthier choices while eating out - a considerable task that many restaurants and food outlets will need external support with. 
 
Companies can also examine how their own products can be used to help consumers to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. For example, our client Nualtra (a medical nutrition company) diversified their ONS products and have been chosen to supply their innovative weight control product to the NHS for a clinical weight-loss programme involving patients with type II diabetes. 

Malnutrition 

Social distancing and shielding saw a rise in isolation and loneliness. Age UK issued a warning in May that rates of malnutrition are likely to rise amongst older people. As more areas of the country begin to move into local lockdowns, this risk is likely to increase again. 
 
Many Oral Nutrition Supplement (ONS) companies have seen a surge in demand for their products since the onset of lockdown due to hospitals stockpiling and/or concerned relatives ordering over-the-counter supplies for their loved ones. Worryingly, the Trussell Trust forecasts a 61% increase in food parcels across the UK in October to December. It’s well-known that food insecurity is a major risk factor for malnutrition. 
 
Companies should be on alert as to how they can tackle malnutrition, whether that’s through providing information services, formulating products for at-risk groups, or ensuring they can reach vulnerable people from afar. 

New Brand Launches 

COVID has resulted in an increased interest in food and nutrition - great news for one of our clients with a new product launch in the pipeline. HRS are currently working with a leading supplier of edible oils and fats to identify health and nutrition claims and advise on brand positioning for a new product launch. 
 
Our health and nutrition claims regulatory consultant is tasked with comparing the nutritional content of the product against EFSA criteria to identify which health and nutrition claims can be made. She also ensures that all consumer communications (i.e. packaging, website copy etc.) are evidence-based and EFSA-compliant. This means that the client retains a credible reputation while attracting consumers. 

Engagement with Healthcare Professionals 

Healthcare professionals represent a trusted source of information and support for the general public, which is one of the many important reasons that food, nutrition, and medical nutrition companies should engage with healthcare professionals. However, the restrictions placed on us all as a result of COVID-19 mean that companies have to find more innovative ways to do so. 
 
For example, many of our ONS clients have been offering virtual ‘lunch and learn’ sessions for Registered Dietitians. At HRS, we have been working with our clients to deliver webinars and podcasts in order to ensure they maintain vital channels of communication with healthcare professionals. We’re very proud that our ‘Dietitian Cafe’ podcast has now been streamed over 5,000 times! 
 
We have also conducted market research with healthcare professionals on behalf of our food supplement client Symprove, using the results to inform a nutrition communication plan which can be delivered virtually. 
 
Without a doubt, 2020 has been a challenging year, but we have enjoyed helping our clients to evolve and adapt during the pandemic, and seeing the results that this has had on their target audiences. 
If you found this article interesting, or would like any more information about HRS Communications and the services we provide, please contact us at info@hrscommunications.com
 
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