Keith NunesKANSAS CITY — When Sosland Publishing launched Food Business News, health and wellness in food meant addressing specific health issues through nutrition and was emerging as a key trend driving food and beverage product development. The first issue of the magazine published March 8, 2005, and featured coverage from the Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference under the headline “Health and wellness takes center stage at CAGNY 2005.” In the intervening 13 years a dramatic shift has taken place in how consumers think about health and wellness, and product developers must prepare for the next change that is on the horizon.

In 2005, the Campbell Soup Co. was marketing its soups as weight management options in response to the rise in obesity and was in the nascent stages of a sodium reduction initiative to neutralize what the company viewed as the single rap about the healthfulness of soup. General Mills, Inc. was incorporating whole grains across its entire range of cereal brands and introducing Yoplait Healthy Heart, a yogurt variety containing plant sterols to reduce heart disease risk. A few months later, at the 2005 Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food expo, the ingredients highlighted by suppliers included options featuring calcium, omega 3 fatty acids, fiber and plant sterols as well as fat- and carbohydrate-reduction technologies.

Many of the health issues those ingredients and technologies were developed to address remain a concern, but how consumers perceive what is healthy has evolved. In many cases the link between those perceptions and actual nutrition science is difficult to discern. Today, whether a product is viewed as healthy may depend on its nutrient composition, but also how it was produced, the social values of those who produced it, the length of its ingredient statement and whether it contains specific ingredients such as protein or gluten.

Many of the technologies associated with personalized nutrition have been in development for several years but are only now on the cusp of commercial viability.

This evolution in health and wellness has been dubbed “customized eating” and includes a focus on simplicity, transparency, ingredient avoidance, health and sustainability. Customized eating represents the consumer’s growing control over the path to purchase and, according to several speakers at the Grocery Manufacturers Leadership Forum this past August, it is where current category growth may be found.

Even as the customized eating trend continues into the foreseeable future, food companies must prepare for what will come next, which appears to be personalized eating and nutrition. This trend is moving beyond small start-ups like Habit to major companies like Nestle, which has launched a personalized nutrition service in Japan, and its former Jenny Craig division. The weight management company is integrating DNA testing into its service to incorporate into its weight loss products and services. Adding momentum to the trend will be the continued development of personal technologies that may track calories consumed, physical exertion as well as specific health functions.

Many of the technologies associated with personalized nutrition have been in development for several years but are only now on the cusp of commercial viability. Adoption at a commercial scale may redefine how consumers perceive what is healthy and significantly alter food and beverage product development. It will be yet another redefinition of what is healthy, and it is a future trend food and beverage companies must prepare to embrace.