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Exploring key trends in personalised nutrition: Part 2

Using glucose monitors to support personalised nutrition choices
Personalised nutrition businesses are firmly online or hybrid, as the emerging industry takes shape—all on the consumer’s terms.

Editor’s note: This is part 2 of a two-part article covering seven key trends in personalised nutrition. Click here to read part 1.

Over the coming year, the growth and diversity of the personalised nutrition sector will accelerate at an unprecedented rate. Part 1 of this look at key trends driving the sector focused on issues including balancing data ownership, the rise of niche markets, and moves toward greater equity. Following are four more of the key trends shaping the industry, and playing a motivating force in the evolution of the industry.

Trend 4: Planet & products: Bridging the chasm

Owing to a variety of influences over the last decade, consumers have become far more aware of their own impact and role in combating climate change. Ongoing concern for the state of the environment continues to be a deciding factor in how consumers interact with brands.

Whilst the research in this area is emerging, a recent study has shown that an online store or brand’s ‘eco-score’ has an enormous influence on how consumers make their sustainable food choices.

As a result, consumers continue to demonstrate a thirst for knowledge for the sustainable practices that their favourite brands undertake—particularly how their food and nutritional products are sourced, produced, and distributed. Moving forward, food, health and supplement brands will be under increasing scrutiny to walk the talk regarding their carbon neutrality and environmental impact programmes.

This can already be seen in the market. From 2014 to 2020, the number of personalised nutrition companies featuring the keyword ‘sustainability’ in their branding increased three-fold, according to the Qina platform.

Companies such as Greenchoice are among those empowering customers with both health and environment-conscious buying choices in an online niche marketplace. The platform allows users to create an online profile based on their preferences, health goals and values and match these with products in brick-and mortar shops.

Over the next five years, digital health and personalised nutrition businesses that actively invest in educating and involving their audiences in sustainability issues will very likely ensure long-term brand loyalty.

Trend 5: CGMs going mainstream

Huge strides have been made by new niche app companies offering CGMs or continuous glucose monitor solutions (app, wearables, software), which, until now, have been dominated by the diabetic and health-conscious market. Besides the obvious blood sugar measurement CGMs can offer, they provide an insight into how individuals respond to specific foods, meals, physical activity, stress, or sleep. Usually coming in the form of patches, they are placed on the arm and feature a microneedle that can measure glucose levels in interstitial fluid. As a result, personalised nutrition services can offer dietary advice, meal plans and recipes based on blood glucose levels, either via experts or via app support. Most companies employ AI and machine learning to recommend the right intervention at the right time.

Currently the global CGM market is estimated at US$5.28 billion with the United States commanding the majority of global market share at 39%. But there is rapid growth in the use of CGMs in recent years, driven by mainstream demand for metabolic health as well as:

  • increasing public interest in health and nutrition;
  • scientific support of the concept of bio-individuality;
  • innovative business models offering CGMs at affordable prices;
  • loosening regulation for the use of as a lifestyle device; and
  • the COVID-19 pandemic highlighting the compounding factors of chronic conditions such as diabetes.

Interestingly, before 2017, there were no companies offering personalised nutrition solutions with CGMs. In the five years since, the landscape has evolved, with an explosion of new launches, resulting in an overall industry growth of 167%.

New companies such as the Dutch startup Clear health are offering programs including the device, meal plans and access to experts from as short as two weeks to months. Others, such as Levels, only allow approved eligible consumers to access its expert-powered solution.

Expect to see the rapid growth continue for several years, as CGMs begin to be perceived as an established (and lucrative) subcategory of wearable digital health technology.

Trend 6: Filling nutrient gaps with real food

The $140 billion global dietary and nutritional supplement industry becomes bigger and more diversified each day. New, natural alternatives continue to make the market extremely competitive, which raises the bar of consumer demand. It’s not enough that supplement products consist of the right ingredients—they need to show unequivocal evidence in terms of efficacy, quality, and safety.

New regulations are forcing brands to go further with substantiation for health claims. The US FDA recently sent warning letters to 10 companies falsely claiming to cure diabetes with their supplements. This is a clear indication that regulators are simultaneously opening their eyes and tightening the rules. From chronic conditions and nutritional deficiencies to weight loss and longevity, the burden of proof is only getting heavier.

This will hit long-established players hardest. In addition to contending for market share with smaller, newer competitors, they’ll need to become far more transparent and accountable to their testing methodologies and long-term efficacy. However, it’s likely they’ll rise to the challenge through smart partnerships and acquisitions.

Furthermore, a new trend in consumer demand for whole food-based supplements that can fill nutrient gaps is also gathering steam. These supplements based on fruit, vegetables, plant extracts, nuts and seeds are positioned for prevention—especially in a post-COVID period.

Earlier this year, personalised nutrition company DietID, which provides a platform that can assess dietary intake using images and focuses on diet quality, partnered with Nature's Bounty. The partnership offers customers a simple survey that assesses their nutrient intake and then recommends products from the Nature's Bounty portfolio.

This move was as a result of consumer interest in personalised nutrition and may indicate a wider shift in consumer perception and awareness on how whole food-based supplements can be a way to supplement a diet that matches their health goals more closely whilst facilitating a slow transition to adopting healthier behaviours.

The personalised nutrition supplement market currently makes up around 6.4% of the total nutritional supplement market, according to Nutrition Business Journal; however, this is expected to grow in the next few years. And expect these supplements to be closer to whole foods, driven by consumer demands and increasing interest in the power and health properties of plants and plant bioactives.

Trend 7: Digital dining

Another impact of COVID has been revealing an innate desire to connect socially. The retail and hospitality industries are fusing together to create new virtual experience economies, powered by data-driven apps. Peloton is a remarkable example of how brand loyalty and mass user adoption, even by individuals, are thriving as a result. Creative, perceptive health brands have witnessed a huge market boom over the last 12 months that is expected to continue.

Fundamentally, virtual connection is trending because physical connection has not yet been restored to pre-pandemic levels. There remains a degree of reticence about in-person social events, and digital interactions have taken their place. A particularly interesting offshoot is an online influencer phenomenon that originated in Korea called social eating. The social live-streaming network Twitch already features a myriad of influencers in this popular niche.

But why would someone want to watch other people tuck into their dinners, or watch them peel yet another banana? Research has shown that individuals are influenced by what their peers eat and share on social media which, in turn, can have an impact on food choices and behaviour. This means that individuals could try to get tips or ideas on what others are eating. This could open a Pandora's box of disordered eating. But what if it was turned around?

While social eating may or may not turn out to be a fad, these new social norms present a unique opportunity for health experts and practitioners to take charge and provide some much-needed guidance on healthier eating and lifestyle choices in a simple and digestible format for consumers. With the right kinds of expert micro-influencers, “social eating” could be a growing trend that could help educate motivated consumers via quality content.

To conclude, we are witnessing an exciting cocktail of combinations of seemingly different solutions (and often entire businesses) join forces to form new, seamless digital experiences to cater for increasingly particular and niche demand. This macro-trend has gained considerable momentum in other industries and professional sectors over the years (retail, commercial software, finance, among others).

These modular strategies succeed because repackaging effective niche solutions as part of a combined offering enhances their market appeal and ability to deliver a memorable customer experience. Personalised nutrition will be no different, and the race is most certainly on.

Executed with skill and heart, these innovative ways of reaching and delighting customers will no doubt contribute to a positive behavioural change in global health and nutrition.

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.

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