Is personalised nutrition on the verge of a breakthrough?

10 Sep 2019

The concept of personalised nutrition has been simmering for a few years, but growing consumer awareness, new companies and investments in the sector are taking it to a new level.

More and more companies are looking at how to provide products and services that allow consumers to tailor their diet according to their own specific requirements, and a growing body of research suggests that a one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition may fall short for many people.

Is personalised nutrition on the verge of a breakthrough?

Major food and beverage companies in the sector now include Nestlé Health Sciences, which acquired personalised vitamin company Persona in 2017, and there is a clutch of smaller firms that have become well-established, including InsideTracker, DNAFit and Nutrigenomix. The Campbell Soup Company is another mainstream company eyeing the sector; it became the sole investor in the pioneering personalised nutrition company Habit in 2015, but went on to divest it to microbiome testing firm Viome in early 2019.

The sector relies on testing for factors like blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose and combining this data with information on food intake, activity and sleep patterns. A major perceived challenge has been that consumers may be hesitant to share such personal details, but as fitness trackers and apps have become more prevalent, many consumers have become comfortable with sharing their health data online. The idea that it is possible to reassure the consumer about the responsible use of their data is gaining broader acceptance, and despite an enormous database leak from MyFitnessPal in 2018, fitness and diet trackers still attract hundreds of millions of users.

For food and beverage companies considering how to take advantage of the personalised nutrition trend, collaboration is likely to be crucial for market success – hence the investments from big players like Nestlé and Campbell Soup. Increased access to truly personalised information about health and nutrition could transform how consumers think about food, posing a definite challenge, but also an opportunity.

To tap into demand for personalised products, specificity is key. Tracking apps could prompt people to choose products high in protein, energy or certain micronutrients depending on their health status, activity levels and goals. For companies, this might mean that a yoghurt manufacturer uses a specific probiotic strain, for example, or a cereal or snack bar company highlights particular fibre ingredients. It demands a major shift for industry, which for decades has focused on the mass production of foods and drinks at the lowest possible cost. In future, factors like health and wholesomeness are likely to gain in importance as consumers gain insight into how particular foods influence their specific health profile.

Some big ingredients companies are active in the sector, too, including ADM, which partnered with the Mayo Clinic on personalised nutrition focused on gut health in September 2017. DSM collaborated with the University Medical Center Groningen in early 2015 to determine how nutrient status affects health among different populations, such as those with type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity, and it has also looked at the effect of supplementation on a range of age-related conditions. In April 2019, DSM joined with digital health provider Panaceutics to help scale up personalised products.

The concept of personalised nutrition may not appeal to everyone, but for those most likely to seek dietary advice, including for weight loss, to slow cognitive decline, to control blood sugar or to improve athletic performance, the sector promises the greatest possible reward: a long and healthy life.