Food, beverage, and dietary supplement manufacturers can leverage the opportunities that personalized nutrition offers for growth, innovation, and invaluable direct access to consumers.
The “one size fits all” approach to healthy eating and wellness is yesterday’s news. The big opportunity for food and beverage manufacturers today is getting up close and personal with the consumer. Personalized nutrition captures an individual’s health desires and data—typically using digital platforms, wearables, and test kits—to develop targeted nutritional advice, products, and services.
It’s part of a wider personalization trend that the Boston Consultancy Group says is responsible for “a seismic shift across the landscape of consumer-facing brands.”1 Seven in ten U.S. consumers now expect companies to deliver personalized interactions, and businesses that excel at personalization are already generating 40% more revenue than average players.2
In the health and well-being sector, factors driving interest in personalized nutrition include the growing consumer focus on health as a result of the pandemic. This is mirrored by the worldwide prevalence of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), which kill 41 million every year—a shocking 74% of all deaths globally.3 The World Health Organization cites unhealthy diets as one of the main risk factors behind the NCD epidemic, and this, of course, is precisely the area personalized nutrition taps into. We are also becoming more accustomed to integrating digital tools such as apps in our everyday lives. Over 500 million wearables such as health and fitness trackers and smart watches were sold globally in 2020, and the market is still far from saturation.4
Yet, given a projected health and wellness market of $1 trillion by 2026,5 the personalized nutrition segment is forecast to be worth only $20 billion by 2026.6 So what are the current obstacles to growth that are holding back food and beverage manufacturers from taking personalized nutrition from niche to mainstream? And how can these obstacles be overcome?
Setting Sail in a Complex Market
Whether you are an established food and beverage business, a startup, a health-science company, a supplement producer, or a tech giant, personalized nutrition is a complex area to navigate. You are sailing into the largely uncharted waters of value-chain disruption. Rather than the typical value chain of raw material to food producer to retail to consumer, personalized nutrition takes you directly to the consumer. It’s a new business model for which no single winning strategy has yet been identified. However, experience suggests that identifying a specific area of nutritional need, such as menopause or sports performance, is more likely to engage consumers in the long term than a generic well-being offer.
The Challenge of Scaling
Scaling is essentially contradictory in the personalized nutrition arena. It’s simply not economically viable to produce individually customized products. One workaround is to sidestep physical products entirely and concentrate instead on providing coaching recipes and workout programs. But manufacturers of food, beverages, and dietary supplements want to sell products. Some have gone down the route of selling mixers to blend nutrient powders in customized doses for specific need states, but this approach can present challenges. Not only might it be a suboptimal sensory experience, but the cost of such devices could in itself be a roadblock for scaling.
Accessibility and Affordability
In a cost-of-living-crisis world where every penny counts, affordability is a significant issue for consumers. A recent survey found that 38% of consumers had chosen not to subscribe to personalized nutrition because they didn’t see the services as being worth the price.7 Solutions that require additional money and effort from the consumer are likely to prove a turn-off for the mass market. For example, providing samples such as blood, saliva, or stool might be acceptable for highly motivated people with a specific need, such as diabetes. But it’s far less likely to appeal to the general consumer, not just due to the cost of the test kits but also because of the potential discomfort or inconvenience of using them.
Democratizing Personalized Nutrition Through Digitization
In the final analysis, consumers simply want an affordable way to achieve their health goals and a personalized experience to support this. Indeed, 88% of surveyed consumers say the experience a company provides is as important as the products and services it offers.8 Bearing this in mind, building personalization into the digital journey using apps and wearable tech, such as a watch that measures activity levels, might be the best way forward. Not only does it meet the consumer’s needs, but it also enables manufacturers to sell functional products direct to them, and at scale.
Wearables can be seamlessly integrated with other technology and apps consumers are already using, such as their cellphone. It’s vital to make the interface and navigation as seamless and intuitive as possible to get consumer buy-in and motivate them to keep using it. Recommendations on the app can be fully personalized to the individual, based on the goals and data they input and the information captured from their wearable. Products based on their need states can be then ordered online via the app, creating that invaluable personalized experience.
Getting Intimate with Consumers
For food and beverage manufacturers, perhaps the biggest advantage of personalized nutrition through digitization is the unrivaled access it gives to real-time consumer data. This is a goldmine, providing another level of insight into their consumers’ behaviors and experience of the products—including how (and indeed whether) products work in the real world. Most manufacturers deliver products to retail and can only dream of this type of intimacy with the consumer. The opportunity to elicit direct contact with and feedback from consumers can provide valuable insight for R&D and inspire new product development. Furthermore, interacting with consumers on a digital platform could be a highly effective way to test new products on a smaller scale. This is key given the high proportion of new products that fail in the launch process. For food and beverage manufacturers, the digitalized approach to personalized nutrition opens up a whole new dimension of success.
About the Author
Signe Causse is a global innovation marketing leader at IFF. She has over 18 years of experience in food ingredient marketing, with a particular focus on key trends and solutions in health and wellness, including personalized nutrition through IFF Digital Health, a direct-to-consumer digital platform offered to food and beverage manufacturers.