Campbell Soup Co. is bullish on the potential of personalised nutrition. According to Sanei, developments in this space stand at the juncture of technology, business and the consumer – a sweet spot for sticky and disruptive innovation.
“The nutrition area and digital worlds are colliding,” Sanei observed at the Future Food Tech Innovation and Investment summit in London. “Where can we find disruption? We believe at the intersection of real food, health & wellness and technology.”
Campbell – best known for its namesake canned soup brand and other heritage products like Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers – has been eyeing the personal nutrition space for some time and as far back as 2016 Campbell invested in US personal nutrition start-up Habitat.
“For so long, we have heard about what is wrong for us. It is time to talk about what is right for you,” Sanei insisted.
Health and wellness trend expanding
The development of personal nutrition should be considered within the context of growing demand for healthy products.
The health and wellness mega trend can be seen in almost all aspects of food industry innovation – from the drive to reformulate to consumer demand for fresh products with clean labels that they view as better-for-you.
While more effort is required on the reformulation front, it is nevertheless time to move “beyond reducing sugar and sodium” to “positive nutrition”, Sanei argued.
Today, that is about the “yes-yes” list, incorporating more vegetables and whole grains. Tomorrow, positive nutrition will be an entirely different ball game: “We believe [the yes-yes list] is not enough… As you think about the next level, it is more about functional benefits. Beyond vegetables and whole grain, what is functional? Personalisation.”
‘The consumer of the future’
Nard Clabbers, business developer for personalised nutrition and health at TNO, concurred that personalised nutrition has the potential to shape future food industry innovation, putting data and the consumer at the heart of product development to improve health outcomes.
“Personalised nutrition is about the consumer of the future, that has more data available and wants to use this to their advantage. We think this consumer will desire more bespoke products and services,” he predicted.
Today, many people think of personalised nutrition as the preserve of the supplement industry, which works on the effective basis of appealing to a particular consumer pain point, be it skin health, immunity, energy, or a host of other health outcomes. Like Sanei, Clabbers insisted that this narrow definition will not be the case in the future.
Personalised nutrition is about food.
“Sometimes people think personalised nutrition is about reinventing food. That is not always the case: it is about making the right food available to people at the right time.”
Relevance: ‘They need to feel better’
The data that is collected – the biomarkers that are measured – in personalised nutrition are important to demonstrate and communicate positive outcomes. But for personalised nutrition to catch on with a majority of consumers, it needs to make a tangible difference to how people feel.
Currently, this is something of a barrier to the mainstreaming of personalised nutrition, Ian Wilcock, an investment adviser with Seventure Partners, suggested.
“Personal nutrition has the potential to unlock a whole new public health debate… But it needs to be relevant,” he commented. “[Current] tools haven’t translated to a change in behaviour.”
Relevance is key, Rob Beudeker, senior investment manager at DSM Venturing, added. “To make it relevant for the consumer, they need to feel better. We need to ask how they feel, how it effects their emotions.”
The road to mass market
Beudeker observed that people are currently able to supplement with the “right nutrients” through personalised nutrition. “It is starting as a niche market for people with health conditions… [Personal nutrition today] is not really mass market.”
He thinks personalised nutrition in mass-market processed food is a decade away from fruition.
One of the most significant challenges barring the widespread uptake of personal nutrition is data collection. Beudeker said that some of the most difficult data to collect is the simplest: “The most difficult data to get is daily food intake… Novel ways to collect intake will be key… A non-invasive measure [to collect genetic data] will also be key to the mass market.”
Delivering a truly personal experience or product is also a massive hurdle for a food industry that is geared up for high volume mass production that drives down cost, improves efficiency and drives up availability.
Currently, the nutrition industry’s approach has been characterised by segmentation and the development of products targeting particular consumer groups with similar need-sets, for example, senior or infant nutrition.
Wilcock pondered: “With nutrition, the question is how personal does it need to be – both in terms of information and delivery?”
For proponents of personalised nutrition, the answer lies in technological developments that will answer the elevated expectations of the consumer of the future.