Investing in consumers: AI lessons from banking and airline can elevate personalised nutrition

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

©iStock/KTS image
©iStock/KTS image
The banking and airline industry are examples of industries that have the right balance of regulation, innovation and technology that personalisation nutrition can take lessons from.

In a conversation with NutraIngredients, Mariette Abrahams, nutrition business consultant cited the two industries as “constantly innovating and continuously trying to improve the customer experience by staying very close to their users.”

The banking and airline industry have embraced such technologies as artificial intelligence (AI) and big data with the use of AI assistants to respond to customer enquiries or machine-based learning that aids in investment decision-making.

Abrahams believes their approaches can be applied to personalisation and the need to extract key consumer insights from complex datasets and long-term nutritional strategies.

“Experts predict that by 2020 the data universe will be 44 zettabytes as gathered from sensors, wearables, IoT devices and so on,”​ she explained.

“However, if the data AI uses is incomplete and biased, we will get poor, biased recommendations that potentially benefits a certain group, excludes others and that are not representative of the population that needs the advice.

Crossing boundaries

M Abrahams
Mariette Abrahams, nutrition business consultant, dietitian and founder of Mariette Abrahams Consulting and Associates. ©MAbrahams

Abrahams, who will feature at HiE this year with a presentation discussing these issues​, added that regulatory oversight was needed for these platforms as this was a ‘relatively grey area’.

“I feel very passionate that scientists, researchers and nutrition experts need to play a crucial role in product teams to validate the recommendations, create algorithms and scrutinise the data that is used, to eliminate any bias and minimise inequality.

“The use of technology in practice is unavoidable, it is the future, however we need the human context and critical eye to keep AI accountable.”

With lessons learnt from the banking industry, which has a long history in leveraging data, data-management processes could be put in place that define clear accountability, maintain data quality and manage the data life cycle, as well as its controls.

Food firms are already making significant investments​ in data analytics, with the aim of extracting added value from their data.

However, as Abrahams points out in order to deliver this value, data needs to be trusted. Businesses must consider mechanisms that recognise quality data. Systems can only go so far.

“Technology has enabled the democratisation of food and nutrition information. One area I would use to illustrate is the 450% rise in apps and platforms over the last decade,”​ said Abrahams.

“These apps have helped with transparency and clarity in terms of food labels, are great educational tools and have helped consumers to switch to healthier options that match their dietary needs and preferences that retailers now need to respond to.”

‘Beginning of a big revolution’

Abrahams, who runs a B2B personalised nutrition consultancy​, ​looks to the future with optimism, mindful of the work ahead if this sector is to reach its potential and the health benefits promised to a once sceptical consumer.

“Adoption of personalised nutrition will depend on access to nutrition experts for the public to truly benefit from personalised advice,”​ she said.

“Also healthcare systems need to gather the necessary data to demonstrate the positive impact good nutrition has on long-term health outcomes and cost savings, so both access and uptake are crucial.

“In my opinion, the farming and agro-tech sector are still missing pieces in the personalised nutrition conversation, but the gap is closing, and hopefully we will see more of a joint strategic approach as the industry grows and matures.”

Abrahams also points to the rise in the number of food-tech start-ups, food innovation incubators as well as investment groups naming personalised nutrition as a key focus in this year alone.

“We are certainly at the beginning of a big revolution. When people are engaged, informed, aware and with the support of regulators, big shifts can happen, but there is still a long way to go.”

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