Retail, personalised nutrition and health: John Lewis connects the industry dots

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

©John Lewis
©John Lewis
UK personalised nutrition firms Kafoodle, OME Health and Best in Bag are named as shortlisted finalists in John Lewis’ retail tech innovation programme, which this year followed a health and wellbeing theme.

The incubator programme—JLab—now in its fifth year, asked start-ups and established businesses to submit innovative concepts that make it easier for consumers to lead healthy lifestyles and eat more healthily.

One finalist, Kafoodle, a food tech business that combines personalised meal planning with dietician dashboards to monitor nutritional needs, described the application process as “very thorough, with an application form, pitch day and Q&A session with the judging panel”.

“Kafoodle began life as an idea, the notion and belief that the food we are eating should always be safe,” ​the London-based firm said.  “Starting out we focused very heavily on allergen compliance but have evolved significantly since then.

“Working with the John Lewis Partnership will enable us to refine our offering for the retail market so that we can continue personalising the diets of consumers even when they are cooking for themselves.”

Kafoodle presenting
Kafoodle presenting at JLabs

With three shortlisted start-ups that emphasise personalised nutrition, the thinking between John Lewis and its partner, Waitrose points to the concept that is making waves in the mainstream with manufacturers and retailers eager to capitalise on consumer interest.

In January this year, Waitrose revealed it was exploring the possibility of using DNA tests to recommend or discourage shoppers from certain food items.

The initiative—DNANudge—uses mouth swabs that are then scanned from which data is then sent to a smartphone app.

With a basic DNA profile, shoppers can then be ‘nudged’ towards products based on their genetic predispositions, potentially aiding in the prevention of conditions like type 2 diabetes.

“It is becoming increasingly obvious that one diet does not fit all,”​ said Kafoodle.

“More and more people are becoming aware of the impact that the food they are eating can have on their health and are beginning to seek out ways to personalise their diets to suit their individual lifestyles, needs and preferences.”

“Kafoodle definitely sees the connection between personalised food and personalised medicine, in fact, one of our company statements is that “the future of health is in your food.”

Combining value added services

Along with DNANudge, Waitrose appear to be making the greatest strides in bridging the gap between retail, personalised nutrition and medicine.

The supermarket announced last month that it formed a new partnership with private health care company Bupa, with plans to launch health checks in stores across its estate.

“It was very natural for us to join this partnership,”​ said Karolis Rosickas, founder and CEO of the second JLab finalist OME Health.

“I assume retailers understand that their existing business does not grow, considering that food retail is mature, commoditised industry with strong competitive/pricing pressure,”​ he said.

Judges deliberating 2
JLab judges deliberating

“They want to find ways to differentiate their offerings and Waitrose would be interested to explore how bundling value added services (such as health testing and personalisation) with food selection would enable them to differentiate against other food retailers.”

“We help Waitrose clients to convert health station data (body composition, blood pressure, etc.) and additional health data (such as microbiome markers) into personalised grocery shopping decisions by leveraging our sophisticated algorithms.”

OME health, a London-based start-up, is perhaps the most scientifically focused finalist for this year, offering personalised, science-based health plans built on a person’s gut microbiome, genetics, blood markers and other health data.

Growing evidence points to nutritional intervention as beneficial to T2 diabetes as well as improve health markers such as bacterial abundance/diversity, blood lipids profile, reduced resting heart rate and improved deep sleep.

These benefits are emphasised by Rosickas, who sees a service made up of users, who themselves require further personalised advice to achieve individual lifestyle and health-related goals.

“Our users choose wellness goals/journeys, such as achieving healthy weight by focusing on nutrition,” ​he explained.

“We are planning to release more focused journeys, such as “Nutrition for Healthy Ageing” or “Eat healthy and sustainably”, which will address more specific use cases.”

“There is plenty of general nutrition advice – NHS Choices, WHO, etc. It is clear that this generic nutrition advice does not work by just looking at growing obesity, Type 2 diabetes rates in the developed world,”​ Rosickas added.

“People seek advice which is tailored to their health and unique circumstances and this personalisation trend is here to stay.”

The future of health is in your food

Kafoodle’s mantra, “The future of health is in your food,” is one that has personal relevance for Eduard Erwee, co-founder of fellow finalists Bestinbag, the team behind an app of the same name that helps customers make the right food choices by giving personalised nutritional advice.

“I am Type-1 diabetic,”​ he began. “The project was born out of my own frustration and lack of understanding of current food labelling and finding the best alternatives.”

“Ambiguity in current food labelling means that the consumer cannot always discern at first glance all key nutritional information. Personalising the nutritional information regardless of current food labelling trends will support individuals to make informed choices regarding food products. “

JLAB finalists
Jlab finalists 

As well as retail, Erwee points out the shift in thinking of the healthcare sector that asks patients to take more responsibility in their own well-being, starting with diet.  

“I truly believe that anyone can improve their health, even reverse certain conditions such as Type-2 diabetes by simple changes to their diet,”​ he said

“This is backed up by the current approach taken by the NHS to encourage individuals to self-manage chronic conditions.”

Erwee goes on to explain that since the app’s launch back in March, Best in Bag has been shortlisted as a supplier for an NHS grant to help patients self-manage their medical conditions via diet. 

“This is a very interesting space with a lot of opportunity. Our algorithm, which created the recommendations, currently works of a predefined set of profiles based on NHS research. With the maturing of solutions, which include DNA mapping and profiling of gut bacteria, it opens up a level of personalisation that has never been possible before. It is the key to personalised food recommendations and the future of the industry.”

“The fact that John Lewis and Waitrose provide their customers with the advice and support in this space makes them a perfect partner to work with. This will naturally progress into other segments such as hospitality and care.”

Entries for the next JLAB challenge is now open until the 5 August. The John Lewis Partnership is interested in innovative concepts, which could significantly reduce the impact of plastic waste in John Lewis and Waitrose. Visit jlab.co.uk ​for more details.

 

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