What foods are best for us? People, scientists, and doctors alike have been asking this question for centuries. The current nutrition paradigm is based on ‘one size fits all’ nutrition recommendations: eat more wholegrain, fruits and vegetables; eat less processed foods, fat, salt, sugars, and red meat. But based on new science, we move much closer to finding the true answer: Our food in the future will be much more personalised. Personalised food is an answer to global health issues such as obesity, diabetes and even cancer, and oﬀers tremendous opportunities for businesses. There are four requirements to make the future of personalised food a reality.
First, we need a deep understanding of the diﬀerent factors that inﬂuence a person’s dietary needs. A growing body of scientiﬁc work is finally starting to open the black box between diet and health. Research reveals large variations in blood sugar responses between people when participants ate the same test meals. The results explain why some people struggle to lose weight, even on calorie-controlled diets, and highlight the importance of understanding personal metabolism when it comes to diet and health.
Secondly, we need technology to collect data, combine it with personal diet requirements, and turn this into advice for a personalised diet. The increased availability of technology such as ﬁtness trackers, Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) sensors and the emergence of low-barrier blood, DNA and gut microbiome testing solutions enable to assemble the necessary personal data, while digital technology helps to create user-friendly apps to support food decisions.
Thirdly, we need differentiated food offerings that take advantage of the new nutritional insights into the individual metabolism to create foods that influence metabolism much more than mainstream foods can. For most of us, the food we eat is the most important medicine we take. This concept was already predicted over 2000 years ago by Greek philosopher and physician Hippocrates (460 - 370 BC): "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food."
If we want to fully exploit the true potential of our food in a targeted manner, we must use the incredibly versatile biodiversity of nature, which can provide us with truly functional ingredients that push nutritional boundaries and have an eye-opening effect on personal health.
Finally, consumers need to be ready for the future of food. This seems to be the case: there is mounting evidence of consumer interest in products that are “tailored for me.” A major global study undertaken by Leatherhead Food Research indicated that globally, more than three in 10 (32%) said they wanted products to match their personal dietary and nutritional needs. This was as high as 44% in the Brazil sample and 46% in the China sample. UK consumers were the least positive at 17%. This variability in demand demonstrates the need for companies to take a country-speciﬁc approach to address consumer needs. Choice fatigue is the flipside of the personalization trend. Brands need to consider that consumers may be both overwhelmed by the sheer number of possibilities as well as underwhelmed by the end results of their “experimentations.” For this reason, limiting choices within “safe” parameters, which still give consumers the feeling of control over their food and beverage choices while, at the same time, minimizing disappointment, is a commendable strategy.
Demand for personalization is poised to be a major disruptor of the food and beverage sector. But it isn’t going to happen overnight. It will be an ongoing journey of innovation, education, and assimilation. Companies that start now will be best placed to meet the heightened personalization demands of the future. What seems implausible today, will be tomorrow’s reality.