Editor’s note: This is part 1 of a two-part article covering seven key trends in personalised nutrition. Click here to read part 2.
The past 18 months have been a shock to the system across industries; nobody was left untouched. But downturns generally lead to an explosion of innovation and collective enthusiasm and this situation appears no different, as companies are creating entirely digital services and virtual experiences.
Businesses have heard the clamour of global consumers, who have become more digitally proficient, increasingly educated and brand selective each day. As a result, their buying behaviours continue to reveal their need for more, better, safer, personalised, and faster health solutions, inspiring the companies that serve them to push the innovation envelope to new limits.
Nowhere have these shockwaves been felt more vividly than in the personalised nutrition industry, which is estimated by Statista to double in size from US$8.2 billion to $16.4 billion by 2025. Battles for market share are being waged across new micro-markets, which have allowed a plethora of exciting digital health startups to emerge. From shaking up the supplements industry to offering greater personalisation through AI and machine-learning, new players on the block are forcing established players to think as big as they can spend.
What magic lies ahead? Let’s begin by reviewing seven key trends in the personalised nutrition space. Much like the industry itself, these are in constant flux, but their foundations will likely remain for the foreseeable future. A common theme across all of these is the increasing convergence of technology, customer demand and advances in science unfolding before us.
Ultimately, the relentless pace and fusion of health, wellness and (particularly mobile) technology continues to lower the customer’s barrier to entry into an exponentially growing, entirely virtual and frictionless retail ecosystem.
Inclusion, equity, and sustainability are no longer just fancy branding statements, but critical strategic pillars. New health and nutrition companies seeking to make a difference will rise and fall based on how they make these impacts real.
Before COVID, personalized nutrition businesses and professionals had already been holding video consultations and conducting remote follow ups. The impact of the pandemic has seen a tremendous uptake in the shift to digital. Any personalised nutrition business worth their salt is now firmly online, or hybrid at least. The emerging industry is taking shape, all on the customer's terms.
Trend 1: Balancing data ownership
Global wariness around the data practices of massive corporate technology and media companies has sent ripples into every data-driven industry, as evidenced by the most recent customer data leak by giants such as Apple and Fitbit. Full, unbridled ownership of personal data continues to be a concern for online consumers, precisely because their personal and medical data have fuelled an enormously lucrative health e-commerce industry. Garntner recently estimated that at least 30% of all global data is health data.
Whilst regulation such as the GDPR (2018) have made a difference into how data is stored and used, it has not given online users easy and full control over who has access to their digital footprint. Striking a delicate balance between maintaining the data dignity of customers and ensuring that its use continues to deliver personalised, meaningful digital experiences is obviously a problem that needed solving.
Data ownership has subsequently become a hot topic that has led to the launch of a flurry of at least 167 startups according to Startus-insights in the last few years. Data ownership entails providing online users with a greater level of transparency, flexibility, and control over how their personal data is captured, stored, and shared with third parties.
One such company is London-based startup Mine, which raised US$9.5 million at the end of last year. The company helps users see who has access to their data. Users can then, based on GDPR, request to have their data revoked at a click of a button. Just like that, the consumer has full control.
In personalised nutrition, companies such as Dutch startup Happ are aiming to tackle this problem as well. The company is developing a platform that allows consumers to share their data and, in return, receive personalised advice and benefits.
We expect to see many more health apps, digital services, and personalised nutrition businesses to take note of this consumer trend and expect requests for their data to be revoked—especially from free tracking apps.
Businesses should consider how this trend could impact their businesses (and algorithms). In addition, businesses have a chance to turn privacy and transparency into an opportunity by building trust and understanding the needs of their users in terms of how much value the collected, analysed and transformed data actually brings in terms of the diet, lifestyle, and wellbeing. Expect this trend to gather much more steam in the coming year.
Trend 2: The rise of nutrition micro-markets
With an estimated 2.14 billion global consumers shopping online in 2021, e-commerce businesses have enjoyed a massive boom resulting in a global US$876 billion market. Recent research indicates that as many as 57% of U.S. adults shop online at least monthly. Most online shopping is conducted on Amazon (74%) and Ebay (48%). However, a new day is looming.
According to Cloudwards, more shoppers are preferring to shop at niche marketplaces that serve a specific segment of the market. Based on the latest research, the number of consumers shopping in niche marketplaces has risen from 29% in 2020 to 42% in 2021. This surge has been reported across all verticals, driven by increasing consumer demand for better and specific products to no-code SaaS platforms that make it easy for anyone to set up shop. Obviously, nutrition has not been left behind.
The COVID pandemic led to millions of people being confined to their home, reluctant to venture back into physical stores, and increasingly shopping online for nutrition solutions that could boost their health and wellbeing.
Niche marketplaces have the potential to offer more personalised, locally sourced products and services, which appeal to consumers who are seeking solutions that match their specific health goals. These range from increasingly complex dietary preferences and food allergies, to food intolerances and helping consumers transition to a plant-based diet.
In addition, smaller brands and startups have attracted small but loyal client bases, helped by the fact that environmental and health-oriented messaging resonate strongly. Ensuring brand loyalty will require hard work on the customer experience front in terms of engagement and content as consumers will expect that the niche marketplace will have advanced knowledge on the topic.
These micro-markets will therefore be hotly contested, with digital health and nutrition startups offering everything from free worldwide delivery to ethically sourced, chemical-free goods and products that are hyper-personalised.
Some market examples of this trend include:
- Keto and Company sources keto-friendly products for consumers seeking an easy way to follow their diet plan or looking to swap out current products for low-keto versions.
- FODMarket curates and features niche products appealing to customers with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which affects around 11% of the global population.
- Beyond animal is a platform that connects vegan brands with investors and consumers.
Trend 3: Equity starts with inclusion and affordability
Each year, it becomes cheaper and easier for consumers to access the internet and leverage the total computing power of billion-dollar platforms and venture investment. This upward curve is also a powerful force for social change and improving universal access to basic resources such as food, water, and health. All these have depended on technology to scale globally. In particular, mobile technologies have spawned a massive digital health consumer revolution. For example, remote monitoring apps, digital outpatient care and AI-powered self-testing have been proven to play a pivotal role in improving social health. However, 40% of the world's population still do not have access to the internet.
COVID has had a great social levelling impact. Hundreds of millions of people, regardless of status or health, were locked down and began fully embracing online communities. All at once, hundreds of millions had equal access to these new niche communities. By fighting the coronavirus together, the relative ease of exposing age-old social inequalities, such as unequal access to adequate healthcare and food sources, emerged amongst renewed moral imperatives.
In the personalised nutrition and health sector, the effects of the pandemic have only accelerated and exposed inequalities not only in tech but also in science, seen in a lack of diversity in nutrition studies. Data that surfaced during the pandemic indicated the growing dilemma of the working poor, resulting in a huge surge in families who needed food assistance and are at risk of food security. It also highlighted the dire state of people living in food deserts with limited access to fresh produce or who had to travel at least 10 miles to their nearest grocery store, where low quality and nutrient-poor foods are affordable and available.
Armed with data, knowledge and the choke of rising food prices, consumers are voting with their wallets and investors are raising the bar. Health and affordability are finally on the agenda.
Tesco recently vowed to boost sales of its healthy products from 58% to 65% by 2025, following investor pressure around the obesity epidemic. In France, a unique law implemented in 2016 prevents retailers from throwing away out-of-date or misshapen foods; instead, retailers have to give it away to charities and food banks.
These moral imperatives of technology combined with an enhanced awareness of how individual actions can impact social change in our immediate circle and the wider world will continue into 2022. With rising inflation and cost of living, many people face this winter with shrinking wallets and colder homes. The metric that consumers will measure brands by is not the beauty of their marketing or their speedy response on social media, but by the real social impact brands can have by starting with inclusion and affordability. We expect this trend to grow in the next few months as brands will have to do more.
Mariette Abrahams, PhD, MBA, is the CEO and founder of Qina, a platform that provides market insight and access to an ecosystem of experts in personalised nutrition & wellness to launch projects fast.