Consumers have realised that there is no 'one size fits all' diet, and what works for friends, family or colleagues often doesn’t work for them. Wellness is a growing trend, spanning all demographics, and in the next five years, the personalisation of this trend is a logical extension of consumers' growing realisation of individual nutritional needs.
As DNA and microbiome testing become cheaper and more ubiquitous, our individually unique metabolisms are becoming more obvious. Consumers are increasingly looking for personalised wellness and therefore want food tailored to their unique nutritional requirements to optimise their physical and psychological health.
In the wake of the pandemic, COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of a healthy immune system in fighting off infection and disease. In particular, the potential role of vitamin D in protecting people from infection has been highlighted, but given ongoing lockdowns, this could be a significant problem. The strong links between obesity and higher death rates from COVID-19 have clearly demonstrated the health and disease risks from poor nutritional choices. Essentially, optimal health from optimal nutrition equates to optimal immunity.
Changing the conversation about food
When thinking about leading future opportunities, we can imagine that the food industry as we know it will cease to exist by 2050. Personalised nutrition companies should look to collaborate with food companies to help them transition from simply providing consumers with tasty fuel to providing products suitable for their individual health. Nestlé Life Sciences and Mars Edge are considered leaders in this food industry transition. Numerous food companies throughout the value chain could benefit from the insights of personalised nutrition companies in their strategic planning, especially with R&D and new product development strategies.
Public nutrition advice is still centred around a 'plate' and food group approach. Even in these early stages of personalised nutrition, this type of advice is clearly inadequate. Developing a system that offers some flexible advice based on an individual’s individual needs would be an extremely useful tool.
Public nutrition advice based around an 'eat less of ingredient X' approach has been an abject failure in industrialised countries, with no sign of a decline in obesity, high blood pressure and other lifestyle diseases. Penalising everyone equally by taxing or restricting sales of food components, like fat and salt, is a blunt object approach which fails to factor in the individualised nature of human nutrition. Promoting a individually consumer-centric approach could provide the impetus required for change
Make it mainstream
One of the most important avenues for the mainstreaming of personalised nutrition will be the education of nutritionists. They will have to become part genetic counsellor and part microbiologist, in addition to their traditional skills and knowledge. Nutritionists will have to grapple with the new reality that the traditional nutritional advice industry is dead. If the industry doesn’t change then it may be in danger of disappearing as companies take charge of the consumer/nutritionist relationship through both virtual and in-person channels.
The major hurdle to be overcome is understanding the complexity of human responses to nutrition, encompassing individual genetics, epigenetics, microbiome and other environmental factors. A taste of what’s to come is illustrated by the introduction of Harvey and Harvetta, digital human physiological twins, able to predict the effect of food on individual human physiology. A major hurdle is the vast amount of data needing to be analysed on an individual basis in real-time. But add quantum computing and individual, real-time advice becomes a reality.
Business models for long-term survival
The best model for personalised nutrition companies looking to be in the long-term game will be to build products and claims on strong and sound science. Publishing high-quality, peer-reviewed studies will be essential to the credibility of products and services.
Any company that can offer a holistic approach to food consumption will enjoy a major competitive advantage. A combination of sensors, apps and AI could combine to provide consumers the assurance that their individual nutritional requirements are being met in real-time. The rise of quantum computing could be the game changing technology capable of handling the immense amount of data generated.
The best way for personalised nutrition companies to innovate their products and services is to look for the intersection of food and health. Health Insurance companies are an ideal target. Current questions are will we see health insurance costs based around whether or not consumers adhere to the advice of their quantum AI-powered digital physiological twin? Will the use of such and AI be voluntary or mandatory?
The ability of personalised nutritioncompanies to provide advice around some lifestyle diets would be useful. Particularly the ability to dial in an individual plantbased, flexitarian, vegan or vegetarian diet and receive the right advice would be well received by consumers.