Personalized nutrition in the spotlight

Food selfies and data: Nutrino wants to make personalized nutrition easier for users

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

Nutrino co-founders Jonathan Lipnik (left) and Yaron Hadad (right) with CEO Yael Glassman. Photo: Nutrino
Nutrino co-founders Jonathan Lipnik (left) and Yaron Hadad (right) with CEO Yael Glassman. Photo: Nutrino

Related tags Personalization personalized nutrition Blood sugar management Artificial intelligence Data

A mathematician and an engineer bootstrapped a nutrition-tech company about seven years ago. Their goal was to create a platform that documents the diverse ways human bodies extract nutrition from food.

That platform is Nutrino​, a provider of nutrition-related data services and analytics on a quest to build the world’s “largest and most adaptable nutrition insights platform,”​ as it says on its website.

The core of Nutrino is its patent-pending FoodPrint technology. “We think of FoodPrint as the digital signature of how different foods affect the person’s body,” ​the company’s co-founder and chief scientist Yaron Hadad told us.

Holding a PhD in mathematics and physics from the University of Arizona, Hadad got into nutrition when he started following a vegan diet almost 17 years ago.

Noticing improved health (reduced migraines for example), he credits this exploration as the start of his interest in nutrition, and the impetus of developing FoodPrint with co-founder Jonathan Lipnik.

In essence, FoodPrint is a nutrition solution from a mathematician’s (Hadad) and engineer’s (Lipnik) lens.

“You can think of FoodPrint as a fingerprint for food,” ​he explained.

“Different people have different fingerprints and different people will have different FoodPrints. The essence is to try and identify people’s FoodPrints as quickly as possible [by] collecting data from different wearable devices, medical devices, of other health data services.”

After several years of bootstrapping and fundraising, the Tel Aviv-based company completed a successful series A round in April, raising $8 million​ from Pereg Ventures, Nielsen Ventures, and Gandyr Group. According to Crunchbase​, the company has raised $10 million so far.

“I used to have to make a whole point and explain why nutrition should be personalized, and it wasn’t very obvious for investors or partners that we talk to.”

- Yaron Hadad, co-founder and Chief Scientist at Nutrino

Not just an app

Its mobile app (FoodPrint Diet by Nutrino) competes in the tracker space against players like Fitbit or Mealime, though it boasts the fact that it streamlines disparate functions like exercise and sleep tracking with meal planning in one app.

But the app is just one part of Nutrino’s operations.

“We believe nutrition has been very fragmented, and there are a lot of companies doing a lot of different things with nutrition, so our strategy and the way we distribute our technology is through partnerships,” ​Hadad said.

“It’s like B2B2C,” ​or business to business to consumer. The company actively seeks big companies that are trying to address specific problems where nutrition plays a major role.

Its largest partner to date is Medtronic, a Dublin, Ireland-headquartered medical device company. Medtronic’s customers who use its continuous glucose monitors get expanded features from FoodPrint.

“We work with our partners to give them the best [artificial intelligence] capabilities for them to put it into their solutions,” ​Hadad said. “It’s like we provide the brains for other services.”

One nifty feature is the simplification of food logging. Instead of typing (or tapping) away on a smartphone, users can take food selfies (the de facto​ term for picture of food, not necessarily meaning that the food is taking a picture of itself…) and the app will generate data based on a picture of the meal.

Working with Medtronic’s device in tracking how a specific user metabolizes food, FoodPrint then ‘scores’ a food item based on the user’s ‘food print.’

My score for an apple may be different from your score for an apple,” ​he explained, which all depends on how the body has historically responded to eating an apple as tracked by Medtronic's continuous glucose monitor.

The FoodPrint artificial intelligence technology can collect data from a picture of a meal and 'score' how healthy it is for the user. Food items may have a different score for different users.

Personalized nutrition poised to be the ‘new norm’ of nutrition advice

The personalized nutrition industry is booming.

The market evolved quite a bit from when we started,” ​he said. “I used to have to make a whole point and explain why nutrition should be personalized, and it wasn’t very obvious for investors or partners that we talk to.”

But he said that today the market is much more mature.

An exact number of the market’s value is hard to find, considering many companies define ‘personalized nutrition’ differently—it can be based on genetic or microbiome data or simply a lifestyle questionnaire.

A good gauge will be the amount of investment going into the space. Campbell Soup invested $32 million in Habit​, which creates personalized diet recommendations based on blood markers and DNA variations submitted through an at-home test kit.

There’s also fellow Israeli company DayTwo’s $12 million injection​ from Seventure Partners’ Health for Life Capital fund. DayTwo offers meal recommendations based on a user’s microbiome, which it identifies through stool samples.

Like Nutrino, DayTwo linked up with a major company, Johnson & Johnson, to develop a diabetes management service​.

The personalization concept is also booming in the supplement space. Care/Of​ and Persona​(formerly Vitamin Packs) offer supplement subscriptions based on a customer’s responses in a lifestyle questionnaire.

Both have attracted capital from prominent funds, such as Care/Of’s $29 million led by Goldman Sachs Investment Parners and Persona’s undisclosed injection from L Catterton​, the largest consumer-focused investment firm with $12 billion of assets.

(For Nutrino, dietary supplements don’t play too large a role. “Today patients can let us know which supplements they are taking and we’ll take that into account,” ​Hadad said. “To date we don’t give recommendations of supplements, though I do see value there.”)

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Shopping in the fragmented and diverse ‘personalized nutrition’ world

While many personalized nutrition start-ups aim for a direct-to-consumer approach, Hadad thinks that working with big partners should be the way to go.

“There are some great companies doing really good stuff, but we believe nutrition will remain relatively fragmented in the next few years, so it makes sense to build an AI-based, science-based platform for nutrition and working with big partners to distribute the technology and reach consumers,” ​he said.

Just as he believes that there is no one-size-fits-all diet or nutrition plan, the Nutrino team also don't believe that there is one input to rule them all.

“Different individuals have different goals, needs, and physiques, and different inputs may provide more value than others depending on the specific individual. This is why FoodPrint is and always will be a layered concept, where we leverage whichever data sources we can for each individual,”​ Hadad said.

What’s next? Asia Pacific, and moving beyond diabetes management

The company told NutraIngredients-Asia in May​ that it is testing its technology in India (declining to give any more detail) and revealed that there is a plan to launch in China.

"There is a big trend around personalized nutrition and wearable devices in China. I can tell you that companies will launch antioxidant and blood pressure monitors, which could be interesting for such a big population. People with hypertension and diabetes — both common health issues there — will benefit from this," ​Hadad said.​

Also in Asia, Nutrino is eyeing Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

The company’s US office opened in San Francisco in November 2016, which is its gateway to North and South America. Some of its partners have introduced the technology to patients in Latin America except in Brazil.

Later this year, this will extend to France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, and the UK.

As for services, the company is keen to find partners beyond diabetes-management providers.

“In the not-so-distant future, new devices will allow us to continuously measure multiple biomarkers and thus FoodPrint will be able to manage several biomarkers in parallel.”

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