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What are the latest opportunities in personalised nutrition?

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Broader acceptance of invasive tests due to Covid-19 could open the door to wider use of personalised food and beverage products and services, especially those that rely on health monitoring, according to Mintel’s Associate Director of Specialised Nutrition Rick Miller.

Consumer acceptance of data collection to help improve health has increased in recent years, with a rising number of people using smart watches, tracking devices and even genetic testing with the intention of boosting their nutrition, fitness and overall health.

“We can’t really talk about personalised nutrition without speaking about technology,” said Miller, during a presentation at the Fi Europe hybrid event. “…The vast majority of consumers do believe that the data they are getting is rigorous and is useful, and this is only going to continue to grow as the technology improves over the coming years.”

Self-testing

Some of the latest technologies in the sector include heartbeat monitoring, using breath to indicate fat and carbohydrate metabolism, and continuous blood glucose monitoring. As nasal swabs and other at-home tests have become normalised over the past couple of years, the public has become perhaps less squeamish about invasive testing, Miller said.

“The invasiveness barrier does still need to be lowered,” he added. “We need to be looking at ways things can be done in a much more off-hand, almost subconscious manner in terms of monitoring.”

Questions of trust

One of the big concerns about personalisation is how much data consumers could be expected to share – and how much trust they can have in the companies that process that data.

“As long as there is something tangible for consumers to engage with, then consumers from our perspective appear to be happy to share their data,” Miller said. “…Not only are consumers willing to share their personal data to get an outcome, we are seeing that some of the outlying demographics are starting to engage with some of these devices that do collect a lot of this personal data. This is important because the sector is diverse and it is evolving.”

In the UK, for instance, 15% of those aged over 55 have used a smartwatch or another device to track their diet, according to Mintel data.

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How personalised?

An assessment-based approach is the broadest category in personalised nutrition and currently makes up most of the market, meaning products based on quite broad personal details, such as height, weight and medical conditions. Such products include protein powders and tailored vitamins.

According to Miller, most people think that personalised nutrition uses genetic information to make dietary recommendations, but this only accounts for a small part of the market. Companies in this segment include GMX and DNA Fit, which advise particular products based on DNA from saliva swabs.

Other approaches include using biomarkers from blood or urine samples to assess real-time nutrient needs, and focusing on the gut microbiome with supplements intended to improve its microbial diversity.

Tailored vitamins & regional preferences

Personalised vitamins, minerals and supplements have taken off in the past year, Miller said, with botanical ingredients in these products leading the way, particularly in the Asia Pacific region where consumers are more familiar with such ingredients.

“Familiarity is very important within the personalised nutrition sector,” he said. “Consumers do need to understand the nutrients they are getting, otherwise I don’t think there’s going to be so much engagement, and that seems to be the case in Europe.”

Miller gave the example of the Swedish brand Vitamin Manager, which uses a questionnaire-based approach to customise its blends, while Swiss brand Loewi uses blood tests to formulate personalised vitamin and mineral products, and French brand Cuure uses a lifestyle questionnaire.

“The challenge that lies ahead really is in providing that mass market personalised appeal, and that’s going to come down to a change in technology,” he said. “It’s going to have to be something that’s real-time, that creates that urgency, but I think it’s an exciting place for ingredient suppliers to be in because it creates a reason why consumers should go for more premium ingredients, or those that deal with their health or nutritional requirement in the fastest time possible.”
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