Chris Lee, managing director for health and nutrition Europe at Informa Markets, discusses the opportunities and challenges ahead for the personalised nutrition market, including concerns around data protection, regulating where advice comes from and the sustainability of the industry.
By Chris Lee
Managing director, health and nutrition Europe – Informa Markets
According to the 2016 Nielsen Global Health and Ingredient Sentiment Survey, 70% of 30,000 respondents from across 63 countries said they actively make dietary choices to help prevent health conditions such as obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol. In addition, 56% of US millennials believe healthy eating is more important than saving money. These figures echo trends we’ve seen developing for a while: that the industry is driven by increasingly health-conscious, connected and educated consumers, who are taking a proactive approach to maintaining or boosting their health and wellbeing.
The result is that the health and wellness market is expected to record an estimated value of $815 billion by 2021. This shift in awareness has led to a growing number of people who want to understand and measure what they put into their bodies and ensure the choices they make are right for them, with 42% of UK consumers interested in having a personalised diet based on their DNA. While the concept of personalised nutrition is nothing new, the increase in demand is creating new marketing and revenue opportunities for food and beverage manufacturers.
Although there isn’t a universally agreed definition of personalised nutrition, the field often refers to diet recommendations and food and drink products that are tailored to an individual’s needs through a combination of DNA testing and digital tools. Goods on the market range from personalised dietary supplements and nutrient gels for preparing meals, to finished foods and beverages. While the differences in people’s responses to dietary components have been well documented for almost a century, this growing trend towards personalisation is the result of extensive nutrition research that provides a better understanding of how diets affect individuals’ health, and new technologies that interpret the data and transform it into user-friendly practical information.
The aim is to affect the move from the idea that we are what we eat, to eating (and drinking) what we are. Even the big players are now getting on board. For example, the world’s largest food company, Nestlé, launched its Nestle Wellness Ambassador programme in 2018, offering consumers personalised recommendations on lifestyle changes and formulated supplements, using genetic testing and artificial intelligence (AI).
The challenges ahead
There are few companies like Nestlé able to provide personalised products at scale, as a number of questions are left unanswered. For example, in the light of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) in Europe, consumers globally are growing increasingly suspicious about sharing personal information. As such, there is a need for transparency and accountability across the personalised nutrition market, especially when it comes to establishing consumer engagement and trust. In an increasingly connected world, with a wealth of opinions shared and countless new products and services launched, regulating where advice comes from and holding companies that fall below standards to account, will also be crucial for the industry. Only then will it be able to tap into the growing trend for personalised products which support a healthier lifestyle.
While over 27% of respondents from across the health and wellbeing, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical industries believe that personalisation will have the greatest impact on the supply chain over the next 12 months, nearly one fifth agree that associated health claims will present the biggest challenge. The issue is that there is a lack of solid scientific evidence about the benefits personalised products bring. To obtain that proof, clinical trials need to be conducted; controlled research is needed on a larger scale to demonstrate that, when a company provides certain personalised information to an individual, they are going to really benefit from it more than from standard nutrition recommendations. Most of the information currently provided is also only based on a small number of genetic components (10-40), although humans have 20,000 genes.
Another challenge facing the personalised nutrition industry is sustainability. With 73% of consumers saying they would change their consumption habits in order to reduce their impact on the planet, the personalised nutrition market is sure to find itself under the same scrutiny as the rest of the food and beverage supply chain. Reducing food waste and ensuring environmentally friendly production and packaging solutions will, therefore, be crucial.
Exploring what’s next
Although there are still unanswered questions, it is unlikely that consumer demand for individualised products will wane any time soon.
As a result, companies are increasingly looking to partner with tech start-ups, which often have greater flexibility to act on societal needs than large corporations, enabling them to improve and develop processes and services to capitalise on this growing trend for personalised foods.
In order to appeal to today’s health-aware, environmentally conscious and digitally savvy consumer, food and beverage manufacturers offering personalised products must be responsible. This includes actively limiting the strain their supply chain puts on the environment, making sure any health claims and nutrition recommendations made are scientifically proven, and upholding the highest possible data protection standards.
The personalised nutrition space is evolving at a fast pace and the next 12 months are anticipated to accelerate innovations in the field, unlocking the industry’s full potential.
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