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What are the top startup trends transforming the nutraceutical industry?

Article-What are the top startup trends transforming the nutraceutical industry?

© Vitafoods Insights VFE24_Startup Panel discussion2.png
From digitalisation and data interpretation to DIY testing to assess health markers, three startup experts at Vitafoods Europe highlighted the trends that are set to transform the nutraceutical industry.

The panel included Imran Afzal, the R&D open innovation lead for the EU at Mondelez International; Aline Santa Izabel, startup ecosystem services lead at Health Data Sweden; and Nard Clabbers, founder of NCNC Nutrition Consultancy. The panel was hosted by Martyna Halas who leads the Vitafoods Europe Startup Innovation Challenge.

Don’t jump in at the deep end with data!

Panellists discussed how technology is impacting startups in the nutraceutical world. In particular, the space is seeing a lot of development with respect to digital innovation, which is largely pegged to consumer data.

“Data-driven innovations and digitalisation is something that is really shaping consumer industries, and that is what we are focused on at EDIH Health Data,” said Santa Izabel. “It’s a massive and fast-growing area but there is still room for plenty of development, particularly with respect to AI technology.”

The importance of how data is compiled and processed was brought up by Nard Clabbers, who drew attention to the different wearable devices and apps that are all contributing to the growth of data. He also stressed that while there is already a lot of data on health markers and the nutritional value of food, the big challenge is how to combine the data to make it meaningful.  

“You have to take the issue of data collection seriously from day one by dedicating the proper professional resources to it, like a chief data officer,” said Clabbers. “The other thing is just start very small. There is so much possibility and you can reach people in so many intricate ways. But the thing to do is just start off very simply, with just a few data sets on specific consumers.”

The evolution of DIY testing

The panellists agreed that since the pandemic, self-testing is something consumers are a lot more comfortable with, opening up the doors for nutraceutical businesses.

“There are a lot of DIY tests to analyse a lot of health markers,” said Clabbers. “Being able to measure the effects of food on health is likely to be a real game changer for the industry. It’s very difficult to feel the health effect of a specific food, so having an at-home measurement helps makes the consumer’s nutritional health journey more interactive.”

Santa Izabel agreed, adding that the problem is “trying to find ways of encouraging consumers to maintain their testing to help them understand the health benefits over the longer-term. They need to have this feedback because health is dynamic and not a constant”.

Afzal from Mondelez International believed the problem is rooted in the fact that consumers want more immediate and tangible results. “Consumers might follow an app’s instruction, but they want results and they want to see that their health and wellness is improving. Monetisation of this area is by providing people with feedback that they can understand and relate to,” he said.

Clabbers also cautioned on the importance of not overwhelming consumers with dashboards that have too many markers. Often just a simple red or green light can help avoid this confusion and lead to greater satisfaction, he said.

© Vitafoods InsightsWhat are the top startup trends transforming the nutraceutical industry?

Fermentation offers plenty of possibilities for startups

Regarding the topic of fermented nutraceutical products, Santa Izabel said that while there is a lot of innovation in this area – specifically with respect to precision fermentation –  there are also more traditional products hitting the market.

Afzal said: “The possibilities of fermentation are limitless really, even though it’s been around for thousands of years. And as we discover new targets and incorporate AI, the possibilities will only increase.”

“There are four areas where startups are aggregating and the money seems to be flowing,” he added. “Metabolic health for diabetes; immune health; digestive health; and, the one that really excites me, is cognitive health. Here at the [Vitafoods Europe] show, there are a rising number of companies that are providing cognitive health solutions backed by a growing body of science.”

The future spells nutraceutical payback

Turning to what opportunities might exist for startups in the future, Clabbers said he believes that improvements in health from nutraceutical products is likely to be linked to paybacks or reimbursements.

“This area is attracting a lot of attention from investors because it offers real results and potential cost savings for businesses, particularly health and insurance practices,” said Clabbers. “In South Africa, a health insurance company has already started to offer discounts to its customers who can provide evidence that they are buying their groceries from a store that specialises in healthier products.”

He also drew on the example of Roche Diagnostics, which is providing diagnostic tools for pre-diabetes. Switching to a more nutritious diet could help prevent the onset of diabetes, in turn offering opportunities for nutraceutical brands.