Products customized for consumer’s individual lifestyles have promoted innovation across the fashion, beauty and wellness industries. An increasing amount of online retailers are using technology to sell products with an element of personalization. Custom tailored experiences are appealing to many consumers, harkening to a time before most products were mass produced. The online women’s clothing retailer Frilly has a made-to-order platform using 3D rendering software, allowing shoppers to order completely customized garments. Function of Beauty sells individually formulated hair products which are determined by a quiz on your hair styling preferences. Care/Of also uses an online quiz to create personalized plans for daily vitamin regimens, then delivers supplements intended to target specific areas of health like immunity, stress, sleep and digestion. These products were once luxuries to be acquired from professional tailors, hair stylists and nutritionists, but with the power of online retail, they are more accessible than ever.
Naturally, this trend of customization has made its way into the food and beverage space. Though the science of nutrition is something that’s still not completely understood, technology is increasingly being utilized to glean health data. Diets are highly influential on food trends, and the ever changing diet landscape has proven that there is no nutritional cure-all. With the constant stream of information regarding our diets comes decision fatigue – when will we know once and for all whether eggs are good for us or not?! This has provoked some companies to consider that the perfect diet may not be one-size-fits-all, and to examine highly individual factors like genetics, metabolism and the microbiome instead.
The personalized nutrition space is still new, but it’s gaining traction quickly. The American Nutrition Association (ANA) recently published a proposed definition of Personalized Nutrition, cited as “A field that leverages human individuality to drive nutrition strategies that prevent, manage, and treat disease and optimize health, and be delineated by three synergistic elements: personalized nutrition science and data, personalized nutrition professional education and training, and personalized nutrition guidance and therapeutics.” With this definition, the field will continue to be accepted and monitored as a legitimate area of healthcare. Predictions for revenue in personalized healthcare are high, too. The UBS firm slates the personalized nutrition space to earn as high as $64 billion by 2040.
Considering how people respond to different types of food, and creating plans with those needs in mind is a new frontier in wellness. Whether intended to prevent disease, promote weight loss or simply offer a more in-depth look at personal wellness, this space is already filling up with companies that offer specialized nutrition. These companies are assessing factors like genetics, dietary habits, physical activity, gut health and sleep behaviors to examine nutritional needs on an individual basis. There are a number of ways in which this information is gathered by companies from consumers. Some are as simple as answering questions via an online quiz, and others require physical samples to be collected and submitted. These are some companies making waves in the food and beverage space:
Habit creates personalized nutrition plans based on nutrigenomics (the study of how food affects our genes and how genetic variations affect the way we react to nutrients). Data is gathered from an at-home test kit, examining the users’ metabolism and DNA. The test tracks how one processes fats and carbs, and reveals food sensitivities. A profile is assigned to the user, showing their ideal nutrition plan. The service comes with the option for one-on-one nutrition coaching, and personalized meal delivery, making for a sort of 23&Me and Blue Apron lovechild. This company has garnered a lot of attention, receiving a sole investment from Campbell’s Soup in 2016.
Viome uses AI to look at diet from the standpoint of the microbiome. Users take a “gut intelligence test” by submitting a stool sample to analyze the living microorganisms in their gut microbiome. In identifying how these organisms operate, personalized nutrition recommendations can be provided. The company recently acquired Habit Nutrition from Campbell’s Soup, and plans to integrate their food delivery service and meal planning. Viome also raised more money at the end of 2019, indicating more growth ahead for the company.
Instead of chatting with a nutrition store employee in person, you can nail everything you need out of a protein powder with just a few clicks. Gainful creates customized protein powder and pre-workout blends based on results from an online quiz. The company’s monthly subscription also offers one on one time with a Registered Dietician, allowing users to continuously refine the ingredients in order to achieve personal results.
The long standing commercial weight loss program Jenny Craig has always offered personalized diet plans complete with one-on-one coaching and frozen meal delivery, but the company is opening up to more scientifically based weight loss strategies. In 2018 they released “Rapid Results”, an eating plan which works around the body’s circadian rhythm. Recently, the “DNA Decoder Plan” debuted. The at home cheek swab test kit promises weight loss insights from which a personalized menu plan and exercise recommendations would be based.
The personalized nutrition space is still in infancy, and something so nuanced as nutrition is going to take awhile to figure out. While DNA has been claimed by some as the blueprint to proper nutrition, it’s been shown to give little insight on diet-related diseases. Scientists say that lifestyle has a bigger influence than anything revealed by DNA. According to cardiologist and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University Dariush Mozaffarian, “genes only explain about 5 to 10 percent of the risk linked to diet-related diseases such as obesity and type-2 diabetes” (NPR). There’s also the monumental concern of customer data protection – while companies promise privacy to a degree, it’s still unclear how this personal information could be compromised or used nefariously. But personalized nutrition continues to become more accessible, and it’s improving with research. While it’s far from figuring out the ideal diet once and for all, it is provoking consumers to consider their diets and health in a different way.