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‘There is a lot of stigma in the world of health, for men and women’ – Marta Letica [Interview]

Article-‘There is a lot of stigma in the world of health, for men and women’ – Marta Letica [Interview]

© Vitafoods Insights Women in Nutrition interview with Marta Letica
Marta Letica is head of growth at Ani Biome, a Croatian startup researching and designing wellness products that target the gut-brain axis.

Ani Biome gathers consumers’ longitudinal data using one-minute-a-day non-invasive diagnostics such as questionnaires, tongue scans, and wearable devices. Based on these inputs, Ani Biome tailors monthly bundles of AgeBiotics, personalised bioactive compounds.

Letica describes her career path as atypical. She studied industrial and visual design at the University of Architecture in Zagreb, with a minor in medical engineering. She joined Ani Biome in 2022.

Do you feel that women face specific obstacles in the health and wellness industry?

“I can say that things, from my perspective, have changed quite a lot. Previously, I was more in the medical field and the space there was often occupied by much older men […] but I would say that things are moving forward. Our co-founder is a female and that's what drew me to the company as well. In fact, I would say over 50% of our company is female. Almost all of our science team is female-led, and it wasn't that we meant to do that: it just organically happened.

“You can see that women have a hard time with their own health and understanding their own health, especially because most auto-immune diseases are [experienced by] women. I have experienced this myself, and that's why I found it very easy to work here. However, understanding our own bodies should not be just a female question, it should be a global question for men as well.

“Interestingly enough – and especially thinking about digestive health and some side effects – sometimes men are overlooked. For example, we had a couple of [marketing] campaigns that we thought were going to be geared towards women – bloating – but actually over 75% of the clicks were by men.

“There is a lot of stigma in the world of health, for men and women. Some things are talked about more in female surroundings, some things [by] men. I think when we look at health, it needs to be personalised. We need to look at the human in front of us and [...] how we can help him or her, rather than just gender. There is a lot more to it than that. And I think the future of nutrition, health, and food is going to be more interesting because it will be led by startups and not by big corporations where things have not changed in many, many years.”

Do you think that personalised nutrition could help health and wellness brands go beyond gender stereotypes and ditch the “pink it and shrink it” branding approach for women?

"Yes. I always wanted our branding [at Ani Biome] to be neutral, seamlessly incorporated, and also thinking about the next steps. So, for example, virtual reality: how to make it more immersive and how to explain to a person what they need to understand about themselves.

“We all get to a point where we are faced with some kind of illness and, at that point, we become aware. But imagine being aware of it before and being able to stop it. I realised after a few months of using Ani that I no longer needed my medication for gastric reflux, which has been a pain in my life [causing] physical discomfort but also psychological.

“We often overlook people's physical and psychological needs and that's Ani's main vision, and what we want her to be: this creature that truly understands you and supports you throughout your entire health journey.”

You refer to the company, Ani Biome, as her. Why?

"We see her as a female often, not always, because there is nurture. We want her to nurture her clients and give reflection to her clients to feel positive and to progress: that nurturing aspect of having someone support you. Our clients have even come to us [after having seen] doctors and traditional medicine because they couldn't find answers. Often doctors look at just one puzzle piece and now we look at the entire puzzle piece. Something as simple as food and fermentation can truly help to support [health].”

You say that you were attracted to working at Ani Biome because the CEO is a woman. Is it important to have female role models in positions of power?

"Of course. I hope that, at one stage, we will look beyond seeing people as just male or female. I think that yes, we went through a stage of having just men at the table and I have seen that myself at my previous job. But I think that we should even move past seeing people at job interviews as male or female. We want them because they are the best at their job, and that is how we look at our own team. Coincidentally it is an interesting balance between male and female and that also [brings] different views of the world.”

Do you support the idea of having quotation in companies to ensure there is a minimum number of women in senior positions?

"It is necessary to have women at high positions but they should also be amazingly qualified and the best at their job to be in that position. Every person at the top level should be there for a reason, rather than just because of their gender.”