Why personalized nutrition is the next big opportunity in food and drink?

Personalization within food and drink is a critical aspiration for suppliers and brands. This makes sense in alignment with Mintel’s trend Make it Mine, that consumers see personalization as a right, not a privilege and so the trajectory for personalization appears to be toward the mainstream.

Whilst personalization seems straightforward, there is no industry-wide definition of what personalization is for brands or suppliers in food and drink. At its most simple, brand-level personalization could involve a consumer choosing a color, flavor and at its most extensive it could involve the collection of biological data (eg. DNA tests), data from wearables (eg. heart rate, sleep quality) or even support from a healthcare professional.
 

Close up woman using online app on smartphone for personalized food at home

Consumer responses support that COVID-19 has accelerated the need for personalized nutrition

Despite a wide definition range, personalization has not yet penetrated the mass-market. Mintel’s 2030 Global Food & Drink trend Smart Diets estimates that home-testing for health parameters, such as finger prick blood testing will become mainstream by 2025.
However, when Smart Diets was published COVID-19 had not been announced. Since then, there has been a shift in consumers’ health interests and perspectives. When asked early in the pandemic, 70% of UK adults reported they would like to understand how their lifestyle is affecting their long-term health; 40% of German adults stated they would like a supplement personalized to their needs and 72% of Chinese adults believe that sharing personal information and health data enables health tech products to provide more personalized services.
In response to COVID-19 consumers appear to be thinking more prospectively about their future health and that is a huge benefit for the future of personalization.

4 categories of product and service segmenting the personalized nutrition market

Assessment-based services are the broadest and fastest-growing personalized nutrition category

In this category, consumers can provide varying levels of personal information from the basic (eg. height, weight, gender) to more complex such as medical history or diet restrictions and food allergies. Examples vary from customized vitamins, minerals and supplements (VMS) such as Singapore’s Paquet to protein powders such as the US’s Gainful. The biggest growth in this subcategory based on the number of companies appears to be in VMS.

Genetics-based personalization services are improving in accuracy, reducing in cost and offering ‘Netflix-style’ subscriptions.

These services involve consumers providing a saliva swab to assess genetic information linked to health or fitness. Services vary from complete nutrition programs based around DNA such as DNA Fit, to those providing a health report and supplements based on DNA such as UK meal replacement company brand, NGX.

Biomarker-based services allow brands to tackle a wider range of health problems and offer nutrition solutions

Ireland’s Food Marble uses a home device that monitors hydrogen in the consumer’s breath and makes suggestions to improve gut health. Whilst other brands such as the UK’s Vitl and Germany’s Baze monitor blood levels of common micronutrients, such as folate, iron, vitamin B12 and vitamin D to create monthly, bespoke vitamin, mineral and supplement packs.

Microbiome-based services are information-rich but likely limited due to the need for stool samples.

To fully understand gut health from a micro-organism level, consumers can provide a stool sample which is analyzed for the presence of different microbial DNA. This gives an indication of micro-organism distribution in the gut and health recommendations can be made. US brands such as the US’s Viome and Biohm lead in this category.

Consumers' health interests and perspectives
 

40%

German adults stated they would like a supplement personalized to their needs

72%

Chinese believe that sharing personal information and health data enables health tech products to provide more personalized services.

Be proactive by focusing on next normal health concerns and watch the evolution of immunity claims

The emergent nature of personalization means it is dominated by start-up brands. Suppliers concerned about the longevity of the industry in this instance should be proactive; looking beyond the pandemic to be ready with ingredients these brands will need now and in the future.
‘Next normal’ health issues are a key target. They emerged as a consequence of national lockdowns. For instance energy needs are on the rise. 38% of US parents stated in 2020 they consume energy drinks multiple times a week versus only 28% for those who are non-parents, likely a response to balancing home-working and home-schooling. Similarly, 1 in 3 UK consumers feel that their eye health has deteriorated due to excessive screen use during lockdowns and 47% of US consumers feel the COVID-19 pandemic has made them more worried about the impact of weight on their health.
For the big health issues of the moment such as immunity, we’ll see a merger with these next normal claims such as energy with immunity. This makes sense as many of the ingredients used to support immunity, such as b-vitamins, have crossover with these health needs. 

Timing is crucial as some brands have faced challenges.

Not all have made their personalized nutrition product work. An example is US smart hydration brand Life Fuels, who used a combination of a water bottle and app that monitored consumer nutrient levels. The app would suggest various nutrient pods that could be infused into the water bottle via its base to personalize a consumers’ nutrient needs throughout the day. Despite positive accolades at launch and even a large investment from beverage giant Keurig Dr Pepper Inc. Life Fuels recently closed business citing the economic downturn from COVID-19 as the reason. Life Fuels’ journey and closure suggests timing is a crucial component for personalized nutrition.

Keep a close eye on smart wearables to understand the future of personalized nutrition

Personalization still has some technological bottlenecks for the category to penetrate the mass market, giving suppliers vital time to prepare.
Firstly, there will need to be an upgrade of the health monitoring capabilities of smart devices given this is the main reason for purpose. For instance, 62% of US consumers who own a smartwatch use it to monitor their health as opposed to 25% who feel it is a fashion statement. Consumers need real-time updates of how what they are eating, drinking and supplementing affects their health and what to do about it.
Given this scenario, suppliers should think about how consumers will be assessing their health needs in the future. For instance, popular methods of assessing vitamin and mineral needs for immunity now, such as a finger prick blood test for vitamin D, may be superseded by future wearables that can show a consumers’ white blood cell count immediately, as shown in a recent report by Duke University. In this scenario, rapidly-digesting forms of micronutrients might be more attractive to the consumer, changing the ingredient landscape.

Hence, the role of suppliers in the rise of personalization in food and drink is three-fold. Firstly, understanding the market distribution which currently is dominated by vitamins, minerals and supplements. Secondly, they must be aware that consumers current and future health needs are evolving (eg. immunity) and others are growing (eg. eye health). Finally, they need to be watching the growth of wearables which provide clues into how consumers are assessing their health needs and hence, what ingredients will be needed to address them.

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