It is “the next big opportunity” according to Stephanie Naegeli, global director of marketing and innovation for food at Nestlé. Personalized nutrition. We are not talking about supplements per se, at least not as we know them today. This approach targets a truly personalized nutrient intake, data-driven, in some cases with products that resemble today’s foods and natural ingredients.
While we are still a long way off, there are several aspects to personalized nutrition that are and will be brought to market to make a data-driven and individualized diet even possible. Swiss food giant Nestlé has so far communicated the most about its priorities in this area. Its statements allow for a detailed depiction of what our diets might look like tomorrow. To state the obvious in advance, the Swiss food giant is taking a platform approach. The data it wants to gather may not only one day lead to a fully closed ecosystem in which the company will not only know at any time about your well being but also be able to optimize it accordingly along with ancillary services.
Consumers are looking for benefits in products already, as I have mentioned in an article about the ever-increasing beverage startup sector. One category that has seen an increase in probiotic yogurt, with added bacteria such as lactobacillus. In spoonable and drinkable formats, as well as made from plant-based alternative ingredients to dairy.
Crunching the data
To achieve personalized food, companies have to determine which nutrients produce results of better well being specific to each individual. Current methods are not particularly fast, however, they do provide great accuracy and already allow for detailed nutrient analysis from a consumer’s sample. As a result, general food recommendations, addition supplement intake, as well as a detailed diet and exercise plans are common practice. The challenge is to build a model that links the results of these analyses to the customer’s genetic information and then recommend and choose the right food and nutrients in a more up to date manner. Picture a draining morning at the office and five more hours of meetings ahead, nutrients can not only support you to get through this feeling good but also to perform better.
In Japan, Nestlé has launched the Nestlé Wellness Ambassador platform. It sends customers a home kit to draw a blood sample which will then be analyzed by Nestlé’s business partners. The DNA samples allow for the identification of a customer’s susceptibility to things such as high cholesterol levels and diabetes, but customer’s nutrient levels are also measured. Since its introduction, the program has garnered about 100,000 users in Japan. As a result of this analysis, customers are being recommended lifestyle adjustments that include gym routines and how to increase their current nutrition levels. This is where Nestlé comes in, it then offers specially formulated supplements to participants in the program. A year of these nutraceuticals, which can include nutrient-rich teas, supplement capsules, smoothies and products such as nutrient-fortified snacks that can cost about $600 annually.
Nestlé and Samsung announced a research collaboration for digital sensor technologies that would generate the necessary data. The data will be gathered from environmental sensors, connected devices and digital tie ins with fitness trackers, apps and mobile phones. The reason this is important for the success of its long term plan is because Nestlé would not have to rely only on a DNA sample, which represents a static snapshot in time, but it could gather information about the consumer at any time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
In return for consumers providing this data, Nestlé would be able to use this data and incorporate it into its personalized nutrition offer that is based on a constant stream of live information.
Fueled by the more up to date data, a more in-depth approach will be possible. The aggregated data will comprise of a person’s analyzed genetic information, dietary habits, physical activity, as well as sleeping behaviors, environmental data such as temperature from sensors and thermostats and of course IoT devices like kitchen appliances will make it even easier to monitor a customer’s physical well being and adjust it accordingly.
Better and easier analytical methods taking into consideration, the information from the microbiome, in association with probiotics and prebiotics and the metabolome, will further add to the pool of data being generated by devices.
Certain requirements have to be met to not only make recommendations but to guarantee the best possible use of data. The aforementioned analytic tools are already available and used by a variety of startups (a look at the current landscape later on in the post) many of which only focus on one particular aspect of recommendations. However, for personalized nutrition not only the analysis of the customer important but also the production of the corresponding food, nutrients, and supplements. Let’s remember that food is and may for some time remain a pleasure for most consumers.
MATS - Microwave assisted thermal sterilization
This patented technology was developed by 915 Labs in Denver. It shortens the time that food is exposed to high heat when compared to the most common current methods UHT and regular pasteurization, that I have covered in my article about substifoods. 915 Labs calls it “the gold standard” of food safety because it displays better qualities in preserving nutrients, texture, and taste than current methods. If brought to market, it would reduce the need for sodium, artificial flavors, added nutrients and in some cases stabilizers.
MAPS — Microwave assisted pasteurization sterilization
This process is developed by the same company and applies microwaves to the pasteurization. During this process, the product is heated to 70 to 90C° for up to 10 minutes, which eliminates viral and bacterial pathogens and leads to shelf life of up to 12 weeks. This allows for less food waste in categories such as vegetables, fruits, egg-based dishes as well as dips, sauces and even beverages such as smoothies.
Remember, the environment in which food is kept also contributes to its aging processes, even if technically free of any organism, it requires sealed packaging, which in the case of fruits and vegetables produces additional waste. There have been concerns voiced about an ever more sterile food supply, which while providing longer expiration dates, is not keeping the body’s defenses on alert.
The global supplement industry, with its distribution of synthetic/natural nutrients as supplements, some of which are highly advanced in their functions, remains a crowded and innovative one. There are companies such as PureGenomics. It advertises a test, translate & target approach, in which it provides research-based dietary supplements, distributed through professionals rather than directly to the consumer. Then there is Nutrigenomix, which has a similar business model but bases it supplement recommendations on a test of 45 genetic markers. Persona is a Seattle based business that surveys customers and provides, driven by its proprietary AI program Sage, a selection of its 70 vitamins to consumers. Take Care Of, pursues an educational approach to supplements by providing information about the active ingredient of each product that it sells to consumers.
Nestlé and supplements
Atrium Innovations, the Canadian company was acquired by Nestlé to support its strategy in the realms of nutraceuticals. Its current activities include the production and distribution of more than 1,300 vitamins, minerals, and nutritional supplements targeting alternative health consumers. One of its more interesting researches in that regard are polyphenols, which are commonly known as antioxydants.
Polyphenols are immediately linked to a variety of enhancements of a consumers well being. Affecting glucose management, cognitive functions, and vascular performance. In one case they provided a cranberry extract to athletes who displayed vascular dilation.
Atrium represents not only an essential part of the approach Nestlé is taking, but its messaging is already in line with the consumer demand for added benefits in the food they consume.
Nestlé is certainly not the only company pursuing this highly lucrative and innovative market. Along with the supplement producing companies, there are analytical companies that focus more no data gathering than the actual nutrients that the consumer is supposed to consume for a better well being. Companies such as Day Two, Orig3n, as well as Inside Tracker. The latter takes advantage of its database of 8000 foods and previously analyzed data from 200000 customers, to base its recommendations on in addition to its analysis of blood, DNA, and lifestyle habits.
Habit, a San Francisco based company, provides analytics and recommendations as well. The difference is that consumers have to report the data themselves in order to get recipes, rather than supplements. It works with Amazon Fresh, where available, to deliver the corresponding ingredients to its recipes. A competitive advantage is its approach to data gathering as it ties in sensor data from FitBit. It is backed by the food giant Campbell, one of only a few Nestlé competitors.
Then there is Styr. It provides customers with a tracker and scale to monitor activity and performance levels and only offers supplements upon request. The products on offer are however based on the data the two devices gather and the manual input data about the consumers’ diet.
Road to wellbeing
Developments in food processing, science and data collection will give way to ever more nutritious and economically viable high-quality food products. How consumer behavior will adjust to giving up more data to companies who want to make them feel better, and if regulators will allow this, remains an unanswered question. That the model of personalized nutrition yields many benefits to society and the individual consumer is obvious and may justify the data collection for regulators and consumers alike. In order to bring personal nutrition to market, the following three main building blocks are required for a successful execution. Data privacy, as it requires not only vast amounts of data, but it contains also highly personal information about consumers that simply do not allow for any misuse. Thorough trials and studies, as it targets the well being of a consumer from the inside, and with the complexity of this approach given, missteps can lead to irreversible results. Sustainable production, the ingredients not only have to be produced for a more sustainable environment but also because we now know that the least processed foods yield the best benefits. Meeting these three requirements will guarantee the long term success of personalized nutrition.
For more about food, beverages and retail have a look at the following articles
Can beef become more sustainable ?
How the industry can meet increasing global demand while at the same time decrease its GHG emissions
From alternative ingredients, to lab grown seafood and the processing of plant proteins
DMs are open for feedback, opinions and even unrelated discussions