Vitafoods Europe 2018: Preview

Digital dread or delight? Surviving today needs integration, partnerships and innovation

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

iStock / DeanDrobot
iStock / DeanDrobot
Nutraceutical companies must immerse themselves headfirst in the digital world, remaining open to collaborations that integrate technology, nutrition and the consumer, say brand experts.

There are an estimated 3.58+ billion internet users worldwide and social networking and online shopping are two of the most popular online activities within this online group, according to Statistica.

Global e-commerce sales amounted to €1.9 trillion (US$2.3trn) in 2017 and Statistica forecasts suggest e-retail revenues will soar to around €4 trillion (US$4.88trn) by 2021. Social media use is also on the rise, set to go from 2.46bn in 2017 to 2.77bn by 2019. Across European Union member countries, more than 50% of individuals used social networks in 2016, with 30% using platforms daily, and Facebook maintains the top spot here, and worldwide, with roughly 1.86bn global monthly active users.

Jeff Hilton, chief marketing officer and co-founder of Brandhive, said we have truly entered a digital age and consumers as a result are immersed in a “digital world”.

“So much of what we do today is digitally-centred and that's an international concept now. We as marketers and brand owners have to adapt to that,” ​Hilton told NutraIngredients.

Industry is starting to adapt, he said, but a lot of it is a process of catching up: “I think they've certainly gotten the wake up call! Some have progressed further than others but if you look at the state of personalised nutrition and that trend, what's interesting is it's one that has been poked through by the consumer and we're all kind of scrambling as brands to catch up.”

Empowered, enlightened and completely confused

Hilton said the majority of companies trying to tap into digital opportunities are looking to create a better overall customer experience, one that integrates technology and nutrition.

“Companies know we're all health-conscious, they know the opportunities are there, they know we love technology and they're trying to bring that together.”

Importantly, this is being driven by consumers and their connectivity to technology, he said: “We're kind of this quantified self now. We've got these FitBits and other devices that tell us how we slept, how many steps we took, how many calories we burned, contain diet programs that are app-driven, so there are a lot of companies who are tying nutrition to technology.

“...What it's done for me, is created this consumer who is acutely self-aware of their health, more than any time in the past, and they're looking for something to help. I like to call them empowered, enlightened and completely confused.”

It's this confusion – which you can't blame them for – that provides nutraceutical companies an opportunity to pair up technology, digital delivery or apps with the right products, Hilton said.

Guy Hepplewhite, communications strategy director at 1HQ Brand Agency, agreed that brands now have to respond to the increasing need and demand for connectivity.

“I really do believe in this sort of growth in connectedness and the need for brands to find ways, on their own or in collaboration with others, to connect themselves to deliver a more compelling proposition and connect individuals. And that can only be through digital platforms and working harder to take existing software to understand consumers more.”

Why, for example, couldn't nutrition companies start to collaborate with healthcare providers like BUPA, Aviva and others, he asked.

“If my healthcare provider, through better digital platforms, understands me better and better, surely there is a relationship there that a nutraceutical manufacturer should be able to exploit. This idea of partnerships, connectivity and connectedness seems to be cropping up, importantly, within the broader FMCG world. How do we connect physical and digital? How do we connect consumers? How do we connect data? How do we connect communities? Those are the questions.”

A smarter world – think fridge

Hepplewhite said the backdrop to all this is a much 'smarter' world, which can ultimately assist manufacturers in connecting better. The best way to envisage this, he said, is by visualising the 'digital kitchen'.

“Your fridge will play an increasing role; your digital fridge. I see no reason why your fridge can't act almost as your guardian – suggesting what you put inside your body – and there's no reason why that, for example, couldn't be linked to your own records. For example, if I was to link my fridge to my FitBit or Nike+, what I have is my wearable technology tracks the exercise I'm doing, how I exercise and whether it's in line with my plan that has been prescribed by a personal trainer or even GP, then my fridge controls or gives me guidance on how to be stocked; certain things if my blood pressure is dipping or glucose levels are dipping. Everything can be connected. So, my kitchen and fridge is my lab. It can even mix my own smoothies, recommend recipes and even ingredients.”

The same can be imagined for bathrooms, he said, with mirrors and on-demand DNA analysis assessing beauty needs, devices that mix and dispense tailored products and hi-res scanners tracking progress.

“It sounds a bit futuristic, but the lab – whether that's in the bathroom or kitchen – is closer to existence than it ever has been before and that's all thanks to the likes of Augmented Reality (AR), diagnostics, and wearable technology that provide immediate insight into the inner workings of the body.”

But, now consumers know themselves better than ever, he said it's more important than ever that brands do too. Companies and brands, he said, must have a much stronger idea on their target demographics, beyond the simple 'aged 25-30, male working in creative sector' type profiles.

“The more inspiring and insightful brands are away from that cold demographic profiling... You need to be more consumer-centric and know how to unlock consumer behaviour and that's more about their mindset,” ​he said.

With future partnerships between technology, nutrition and perhaps healthcare, it will be the nutrition companies and brands that can bring this level of consumer understanding to the mix, he said, which in turn will fuel a compelling and convincing brand purpose.

For nutraceutical firms, Hepplewhite said the 'sustainable' purpose is a hugely opportune area to go for: “The importance of sustainability and ability to impact society is where I think nutraceuticals has a fertile piece of ground to exploit... if brands invest in robust research, clinical study and manage and market themselves with a real sense of responsibility, there's a real sense of opportunity.”

Tread carefully – it's a competitive world

But, Hilton warned that it's important brands take a slow approach rather than diving straight in.

“It's competitive and you have a lot of people trying to figure it out, and being first to market, to me, is one thing but being 'right to market' is more important. Doing the consumer research and bringing the right thing to market is the first priority, not just going quickly with anything. It's a two-way circuit: on the one hand, you've got to get in there and get your steak but on the other hand you only get one shot to get it right.”

There will be a lot of companies that fail, he said, but there will also be many that rise to the challenge and succeed.

“Someone who succeeds will have started with the consumer and worked out from that, not just with a  great idea. It's more – start with the consumer, see what their needs are, and then how we can deliver more digitally-delivered nutrition and build it up from there.”

Whilst doing all this, Hilton said it is also essential brands maintain a strong, informative and engaging website and social media presence, or“digital home” ​as he likes to call it.

“You've got to get your digital house in order. Make sure your site is engaging, compelling; make sure your social media platforms connect; and make sure you're speaking the same language, meaning brand language, on all your outlets. Consumers shop in the omni-channel, so you have to have a uniformity of message.

“...A lot of companies are jumping over that and moving ahead with an interesting technology or idea, and you look at their website and it looks like it was created ten years ago, and it probably was.”

Sites that include links to social media channels, for example, area ideal for digital consumers and sites that integrate e-commerce are even better.

“Amazon of course is the elephant in the room. A lot of brands are using Amazon for their back end, so to speak, but increasingly companies are setting up shop on Amazon separately and also securing their own company e-commerce because when you have a consumer on your site, you've really got to have the full sale.”

Guy Hepplewhite will be presenting at Vitafoods 2018 on Tuesday 15 May at 10.20am and Jeff Hilton on Wednesday 16 May at 9.30am.

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