Time to get personal? How to embrace digital technology in tomorrow’s nutraceuticals

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12 Apr 2018 --- Within the world of nutrition, personalization has quickly climbed the ranks to become a key industry phrase, with both larger players and newer start-ups seeking to profile themselves as capable of offering their customers, and ultimately consumers, cutting-edge solutions for all their health needs. NutritionInsight looks at some of the developments in this space, as well as the challenges involved in the pivotal strategy of using digital tools with personal consumer input.

Mindful, digital-savvy consumers set the agenda
As populations become more digitally savvy, they are taking personal well-being into their own hands. 

Roshena De Leon, Global Insights Manager at NZMP [Fonterra’s ingredients arm] tells NutritionInsight: “The use of digital tools and mobile devices helps people understand and track health and well-being needs. They then choose and consume products for the dietary requirements being addressed. Diets are no longer ‘one size fits all’ and this will continue to drive consumer demand for products tailored to people’s specific needs within the food and beverage sector.” 

Marcos Lopez, Monteloeder, Digitized Ingredients Brand Manager, echoes this notion. “We live in the digital era. Digital customers look for self-management services, superior customer experience and proven efficacy. Companies must be ready to change and adapt to these new demands,” he notes.

“Digitalization of health ingredients”
Increasingly, companies look into marrying digital tools with nutritional/nutraceutical offerings to meet these consumer demands.

“One way to meet the demand for personalization is to build portfolios to accurately target fragmented, and increasingly niche, consumer groups. An interesting area of personalization that is enabled by digital is co-creating with the consumer,” says de Leon.

Last month, DSM and digital health company Mixfit entered into a strategic partnership to deliver personalized nutrition solutions by providing individuals with the right blend of nutrients based on a set of health and activity measurements. 

Mixfit's Intelligent Nutrition Assistant (Mina) is an Artificial Intelligence solution that analyzes a person's genetic makeup, alongside their diet, lifestyle and health goals. Mina then identifies nutritional gaps and creates and dispenses beverages containing a customized mix of DSM's Quali Blends with vitamins and minerals throughout the day. 

“Mina will work effectively with some very general personal health information, provided to Mina during the setup process. Mina’s intelligence and accuracy improves as users connect their real-time health data, medical data and wearables devices,” Nelleke Barning, Global Director Communications & External Affairs, DSM Nutritional Products, tells NutritionInsight.

Personalized nutrition will be central to DSM’s Vitafoods Europe 2018 theme, as was clear from an interview with Frédéric Boned, EMEA Vice President (VP) of its Human Nutrition & Health business.

Last month, BASF announced that it had joined the Personalized Nutrition & Health consortium founded by TNO and Wageningen University & Research. As part of the collaboration, BASF is to contribute to the consortium’s research fields with its health ingredients brand, Newtrition, and use its scientific capabilities on optimized micronutrient intake for improvement of health and prevention of diseases, along all stages of life. “This collaboration is a key milestone in our commitment to shape the future with ecosystems that foster the progress of personalized nutrition and health,” says François Scheffler, Head of BASF Global Human Nutrition. “We are passionate about developing innovations that can enable each one of us to reach our full potential with science-based choices underpinned by personal needs.”

Click to EnlargeConsumer-based solutions
Also aiming to provide its customers with the capabilities to provide consumer-based solutions, Monteloeder has for the past four years been working on a new concept, dubbed the “Digitalization of health ingredients.” 

The company uses mobile technologies and wearable devices during a product´s development. With the information gathered, Monteloeder develops digital solutions where product effects, consumer personal characteristics and context are taken into consideration. 

“Each of our products has a mobile App incorporated to interact with the consumer in an easy, comfortable and personalized manner,” Lopez explains.

“We have created our new development methodology based on design thinking principles. Our digital solutions are designed to provide our partners with the right tools to implement a consumer-centric strategy,” Lopez tells NutritionInsight.

For example, “Paired with Monteloeder’s Metabolaid functional ingredient comprised of two plant extracts: Hibiscus sabdariffa and Lippia citriodora, the mobile application can track product consumption and its effects on users while evaluating the consumer´s habits, providing them with guidelines towards a healthy lifestyle,” Lopez says. 

The digital nutraceutical concept aims to accompany and support consumers in their journey and help them achieve their goals, demonstrating the product’s effectiveness and adding value along the way. 

Apart from supporting consumers, Monteloeder’s approach to personalized, digitalized nutrition allows companies to gain the ability to interact with their consumers, get insights, learn their habits and needs to continuously grow and improve their products and services day by day.

So where should industry look for further development?
To further capitalize on the convergence of technologies and health personalization demands, it is essential to invest in ways to gather, order and analyze big data, Jenny Arthur, Head of Nutrition and Product Development, Leatherhead Food Research, notes in the March edition of The World of Food Ingredients

“Deriving actionable insights from behavioral data generated via social media, mobile applications and online shopping can inform business decisions at a strategic level. This ensures innovation is rapid and focused enough to keep pace in a digitally transformed world,” she adds.

An online survey conducted by Leatherhead Food Research last year reveals a tranche of confident, informed consumers who want to control and shape their own healthy eating patterns. A fifth (20 percent) of all UK adults, and more than a quarter of women (26 percent) have created their own meal plan or diet based on the research [a total sample size of 2,104 adults]. This corresponds with an increased use of personal technology to measure and manage health-related behaviors. “We found that 39 percent of 35-44-year-olds and 26 percent of all UK adults have used an app or wearable device to count steps or measure burned calories,” Arthur writes.

Technology will also play an important role overcoming any challenges regarding health personalization on a larger scale. 

“The logistics and economics of contemporary food and beverage manufacture are firmly rooted in mass-production models. Finding ways to reconcile this with the need for enhanced personalization will require innovation and reinvention,” Arthur notes.

Challenges to widespread adoption
Although there is enough impetus and interest in the realm of personalized, digitalized nutrition, on the consumer side especially, there may be hurdles involved in assuring acceptability. With social media powerhouse Facebook embroiled in a huge data collection scandal right now, it will not be surprising if consumers become much more timid in how they share their data for the foreseeable future. 

“It would be naive to think that people are not concerned about sharing their personal data, especially considering the scandals that we see in the news lately,” Lopez notes. “Nevertheless, with the right data access security protocols, these hurdles can be overcome.”

“As we conceive it, the exchange is more like a collaboration. Users share their personal data with companies to receive value in return, [such as] personalized offers and support that empower and facilitate their self-care. Thus, if you as a company can provide a good value and demonstrate your products effectivity, consumers will accept the deal,” he states.

Looking forward
So where should we be looking for the future of personalized nutrition?

“The next progression of the personalization trend sees consumers making decisions based on their unique genetic profile, metabolism or disease risks,” Fonterra Program Manager Nutrition and Health, James Dekker tells NutritionInsight. “A small group of consumers are increasingly open to a more science-based approach to personalization. These are the consumers wanting to make changes in their diet based on their individual needs, which could be through DNA testing, microbiome (gut) profiling or other tests.” 

“We’re seeing the rise of consumers taking an interest in genetic profiling; the next question is how do we, in partnership with food manufacturers, translate this into products people can buy.” 

“From new non-invasive continuous tracking and analysis systems (i.e. wearable devices) to the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) techniques to identify patterns and correlations in between the gathered user data and specific health-related conditions, there is plenty of room for improvement in several areas. These correlations, already known at some forums as Digital Biomarkers, will empower preventive health approaches,” Lopez notes. “The technologies currently available might not be perfect or mature, but are good enough to start this journey that will lead us to a better future.” 

By Lucy Gunn

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