We interviewed Jennifer Arthur, Head of Nutrition & Product Development, Leatherhead Food Research about personalised nutrition.
What is the definition of ‘personalised nutrition’?
Personalised nutrition is the concept of adapting food to individual needs. Whilst personalising products started in the 1970’s, personalised nutrition has gathered pace in recent years following the human genome project and work on the gut microbiome. From a nutrition perspective personalised nutrition moves away from general nutrition advice for the general population, to more tailored nutrition products and services either for individuals or for target groups such as children, teenagers, the 50+, elderly and retired. It also takes into account lifestyle factors, including how active people are.
Wearable technology is helping people to become more aware of their diet and activity levels and consumer demand for increasingly tailored products is growing. With the expansion of food delivery services and the emergence of more tailored products, personalised nutrition is becoming more and more accessible. However, further research is needed to completely understand the interrelationship between food, our genes and our gut microbiome (the community of microorganisms – such as bacteria and other organisms – that live in a person’s gut).
Is there an understanding from consumers of what it means?
Personalised nutrition means different things to different people, depending on what individual consumers are looking for from products. Consumer trends are focusing more towards targeted products and consumers will be seeking out increasingly personalised products, i.e. ‘just for me’. In a recent consumer survey undertaken by Leatherhead Food Research, when we asked people about the foods that they would like to see more readily available, 32% wanted products which matched their personal dietary and nutritional needs.
Are there any particular areas of personalised nutrition that are taking off?
Personalised diet plans and meal delivery are taking off both in the US and UK as people strive to eat more healthily. They provide convenient solutions, be they recipes or prepared meals, which enable consumers to tailor meals to their own tastes, diet or health goals.
Leatherhead Food Research also sees products targeted at specific demographics as becoming more prevalent. For example, the over 65s tend have a reduced appetite which can lead to increased requirements for macro and micronutrients, in particular protein, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B. Norway is taking the lead on this and has launched milk and yogurt products targeted at the over 65s.
How is the industry responding to this demand? Can you highlight a couple of innovations in this area?
In terms of personalised meal plans, PlateJoy launched in San Francisco in 2012 offering personalised meal plans and delivery of ingredients to local stores to meet nutritional needs, and in 2016, Campbell Soup Company became the sole investor in Habit, a start-up offering nutrition recommendations and personalised meals based on biochemistry and personal goals, plus a meal delivery service in the San Francisco area. Also in 2016, Israeli company Nutrino launched a nutrition insights app for people living with diabetes. The app collects data from wearable devices, uses machine learning to give food recommendations and, for those with specific glucose monitors and insulin pumps, gives an individualised picture of how daily food intake and other measures impact glucose levels.
How do you see personalised nutrition being commercialised in the future?
Nutrition and health is a key topic for consumers, research carried out by Leatherhead Food Research highlights the key nutrition and health areas that consumers are interested in, including sugar reduction and protein. Personalised nutrition will be commercialised by seeing a greater number of products with health related benefits being targeted at different population groups based on their nutritional requirements.
What should companies be focusing on if they want to benefit from this trend?
"Companies should focus on understanding more about their customer needs from a nutrition perspective, and this will depend on the product category. In addition, our research has shown that trust is key when it comes to sharing information as personal as DNA; consumers need to trust that the information will be used responsibly and that it won’t be misused or sent to, or accessed by, other companies. Companies need to clearly articulate how they are intending to use the data and what benefits it will bring to the consumer; consumers won’t necessarily make the connection between providing the information in order to improve their health by themselves.
What are some of the regulatory challenges around personalised nutrition?
Incorporating novel ingredients and ingredients with added health benefits into products will be challenging as the regulatory requirements will vary depending on the ingredient, the product and which markets the product is to be sold in. For example, the sweetener monk fruit can be used in the US, but not in Europe. There will also be considerations around composition, labelling, nutrition and health claims.
What are your predictions for the F&B industry in the next 3-5 years?
Currently the nutrition agenda is driving product development and this is set to continue. In the shorter term I think there will be more products targeted at different population groups; and as we understand more about nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics this will help individuals to choose products most suited to their genetic makeup.