Keith Nunes

A rapidly evolving trend food and beverage executives must carefully keep in sight is personalized nutrition. Through DNA testing, more sophisticated sensor technologies, smartphones and wearable devices, consumers increasingly may track various aspects of their personal health and wellness. These advances have the potential to shift consumer purchasing patterns and create unforeseen challenges and new opportunities for food and beverage manufacturers.

Habit, the San Francisco-based start-up, is perhaps the most well-known personalized nutrition business. The company drew attention in 2016 when the Campbell Soup Co. invested $30 million in the enterprise.

The Habit business model requires users to submit blood samples for review. Based on the results, Habit personnel develop a personalized nutrition plan for users. As part of the program, customers may subscribe to a service in which Habit prepares and delivers personalized meals customized to the subscribers’ individual nutritional needs.

At this year’s CES, formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show, several enterprises with a focus on personalized nutrition exhibited. While in a nascent phase, the emergence of these businesses highlights the potential of personalized nutrition.

Habit personalized nutrition
Advances in personal technology have the potential to shift consumer purchasing patterns.

FoodMarble, for example, is building a personal digestive tracker it calls Aire. The device is designed to help consumers who deal with frequent digestive discomfort identify foods most compatible with their digestive system.

Aire requires users to take a breath test that measures the amount of gas in their system. Then, via an app, FoodMarble tests how a user’s gut responds to such carbohydrates as fructose and lactose. Based on the results, a personalized diet is developed for the user that suits their digestive system, according to the company.

Two other companies exhibiting at CES showcased sensor technologies for the detection of allergens in finished products. Both Allergy Amulet and Nima offer consumers systems that allow them to test products for the presence of allergens. Nima sells direct to consumers testing devices that detect peanuts and gluten.

Allergy Amulet users may insert a single-use test strip into multiple areas of a finished product or restaurant meal. The strip is then prepped and, once it is ready, may be inserted into a reader. A connected app on the consumer’s smartphone then receives the results and alerts users to the presence of allergens.

A start-up out of the United Kingdom is intent on encouraging consumers to adopt healthier behaviors. DnaNudge is a service that prompts consumers to make shopping choices based on their genetic makeup. Users submit DNA via a mouth swab. The results are evaluated and, through what the company calls its “DNA-product mapping system,” consumers may select personalized choices customized to their genetic makeup. Users may scan a retail product’s barcode into the DnaNudge app, and the system will approve the choice or recommend an alternative. Users may customize the system if they are trying to avoid certain ingredients, for example.

It is early days in the personalized nutrition marketplace and unclear what business models may succeed. What is clear is there is commercial and consumer interest, and as the market builds momentum it is incumbent on executives to consider how they may be affected by or capitalize on the trend.