Personalised nutrition: an exciting category with challenges ahead

How can personalised nutrition pave the way to healthier eating habits? How is this category, that is prognosed exponential growth, evolving and what are the challenges for the future of personalised nutrition?  

After talking to more than 100 relations in the area of personalised nutrition from industry, government, NGO's, education, and research institutes, Judith van der Horst, Innovation Lead Food & Health at Foodvalley NL, is convinced that digitalisation and personalisation is a way to tap into the intrinsic motivation of consumers and could play a pivotal role in stimulating them towards a more healthy and sustainable diet. To make the healthy choice the easy choice. However, these conversations revealed that personalised nutrition is not a walk in the park and more insights into the future challenges of personalised nutrition are desired.  

Foodvalley NL collaborates with Mintel to provide you with the latest market and consumer insights and consulted Rick Miller, Associate Director, Specialised Nutrition at Market Intelligence Agency Mintel to share his research on personalised nutrition. Because only together we can shape the future of food.   

“How ‘Make it Mine’ is becoming big business

Personalisation is the veritable gold standard for many specialised nutrition brands and for good reason, consumers continue to report as set out by Mintel’s trend Make It Mine that they see personalisation as a right, not a privilege.

There are various projections as what the personalised nutrition market could be worth in the future depending on the technology used (e.g. DNA testing) and category (e.g. vitamins, minerals and supplements). There are estimates extending into a global net worth of the category into billions of dollars which seems extraordinary, but the exponential growth of this sector makes sense in the light of Mintel’s Global Food & Drink consumer trends.  

When Mintel published their 2030 Global Food & Drink trend Smart Diets they set out an innovation timeline for integration of technology and personalisation into food and drink. At the time, pre-pandemic, they estimated that mass utilisation of home-testing would become mainstream by 2025. This estimation is based on a minimum of 30% consumer interest in personalised diets and the use of DNA tests in 22 countries as part of Mintel’s Global Consumer report in 2019 and market estimations for the growth of DNA testing. 

How the pandemic is propelling personalisation

Then the pandemic hit and the world changed. Mintel updated its 2030 trend to suggest that COVID-19 has only accelerated the Smart Diets trend due to the greater emphasis consumers are placing on personal health. For instance, 76% of Chinese consumers state that they are taking preventive supplements against cold/flu due to COVID-19. There is also better familiarity with health monitoring technology represented in consumers' interest in smart watches and an increase in trust in home testing kits, only 9% of US consumers do not trust the results of a home DNA test.  

These aggregating consumer responses underpin the growing desire for personalised products among consumers. For instance, 40% of German consumers and 30% of UK consumers would be interested in personalised vitamins, minerals and supplements specifically for their needs. In South East Asia, 20% of Thai consumers would be interested in a subscription service that delivers vitamins or supplements tailored to their needs.  

When asked in 2020, 26% of US consumers said they are interested in personalised vitamins/supplements with 18% of the same sample stating they have used personalised vitamin/supplement packages and would do so again. Only a meagre 8% of the consumers from this sample said they have tried these products and would not do so again. 

How the undefined personalised nutrition market is playing out

Clearly, the consumer market is buoyant with strong interest and retention amongst personalised supplement users. So what does the market have to offer in terms of personalised nutrition?  

There is no official definition for personalised nutrition and hence, at the lowest possible entry level, personalisation could be as simple as consumer choosing a colour, putting their name on a product or having access to a customer service assistant to pick out the right product for them. At its most extensive it could involve multiple health variables (from biological data and wearables), close dialogue with healthcare professionals to shape the final offering, and an evolving product line that changes with a consumers’ health needs as the months go on. There is an industry need to provide clarity in a poorly defined market.  

Assessing the current market offerings within personalised nutrition most products appear to fall into 4 main categories.   

  1. Assessment-based: Themost broadcategory of all, consumers provide varying levels of personal information from basic (e.g. height, weight, gender) to more complex such as medical history or diet restrictions and food allergies. Offerings vary from customised vitamins, minerals and supplements (VMS) such as Singapore’s Paquet to protein powders such as US’s Gainful or even personalised recipes based on artificial intelligence from Verdify.
  1. Genetic-based: Consumers provide a saliva swab to assess genes that have been linked to health or fitness. Services vary from complete nutrition programs based around DNAeg.DNA Fit to those providing a health report and supplements based on DNA such as NGX.
  1. Biomarker-based: More familiar to consumers given the crossover with medical investigations, biomarker- based servicesutiliseblood tests to offer a more real-time assessment of nutrient needs. Brands such as Vitl and Baze use this approach for their VMS packs and d.velop use this approach for their direct-to-consumer vitamin D3 testing kits. 
  1. Microbiome-based: Targeting a more gut health-focused consumer, brands use a stool sample that assesses the distribution of gut microorganism species and personalised supplements can then be recommended. Brands such as Viome and Biohm lead in this category.

All of these categories may feature integration of smart devices (eg. step count, heart rate variability, blood glucose monitoring) to a lesser or greater degree and hence, there is no separate technology or health technology category. This further adds to the need for clarity around what personalised nutrition is and is not.   

The challenge for the future of personalised nutrition

So what does the future hold for personalised nutrition? It is clear that there are some technological bottlenecks that must be addressed in order for the category to be relevant to the mass market. The market is for the most part, limited to retrospective data analysis (eg. blood tests collected and processed).  

However, real-time physiology tracking such as Clear. that uses Abbott Laboratories’ Freestyle Libre continuous glucose monitor to give consumers real time feedback on their blood glucose and how to optimise it for sport and daily performance is the beginnings of the new frontier in personalisation.

Therefore, in order to reach an optimal level of personalisation, there needs to be a step forward in smart devices and health monitoring services that allow for constant data quantification. This will allow consumers to match the realities of what they are eating and supplementing and how it affects their health in real-time.   

As one starts to funnel these requirements into the perfect concept for personalised nutrition, the number of players in this space diminishes extraordinarily. It might be said that consumers would be hesitant to share such large amounts of personal data, but this appears not to be the case. Amongst Chinese consumers, 72% report that sharing personal information and health data enables health tech products to provide more personalised services.  

Making predictions for personalised nutrition  

Given all this, we can make some predictions about the future of the category. Brands engaging in the personalised nutrition category should prepare for a future where health markers that are currently popular now for personalised nutrition products (e.g. microbiome testing) may not be feasible in a future era of continuous health monitoring. However, it could pave the way for other technologies such as volatile organic compound analysis, which is less invasive and provides similar data to microbiome data via stool analysis.   

Similarly, whilst consumers are open to sharing their personal data to obtain more personalised products, brands need to consider maximising the security of the data to enhance trust in this category. This means compliance with local and regional data protection legislation and communicating to consumers how their data is used for their benefit. Finally, with enhancements in internet connectivity and smart devices, including home appliances, artificial intelligence-powered assistants and wearables, the future of the personalised nutrition category is one that is highly interconnected.

The challenge and opportunity for brands lies in finding that exciting combination of markers that give the maximum benefit for consumers with minimal invasiveness. Right now, the market for personalised nutrition is dominated by vitamins, minerals and supplements but that could change quickly if a brand is able to harness the power of multi-variable data streams from smart devices, biological data and expert input from professionals the opportunity to dominate the personalised nutrition market from all. 

Additional Links:

The links below provide even more relevant information on this topic. You do need a Mintel subscription to access the content.  

 About the author:

Rick Miller has 15 years of expertise in dietetics and performance nutrition and has been working across various organizations including FMCG, supporting new product development, regulatory affairs, and scientific communication to multiple global brands.    

Foodvalley NL collaborates with Mintel, a global leader in market intelligence, to provide stakeholders working on the transition to a sustainable food system, with the latest market and consumer insights, on various topics. Are these market insights valuable to you? Please let us know.  


Judith van der Horst
Innovation Lead Food & Health

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