Pandemic put wind in sails of personalized nutrition

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

©Getty Images - Pogonid
©Getty Images - Pogonid

Related tags personalized nutrition pandemic COVID-19

The pandemic has supported the growth of personalized nutrition companies, though that trend has not been as obvious as some, like the increased demand for immunity products.

Personalized nutrition is an innovation in the manufacture and delivery of any sort of nutritional product and not a category in an of itself.  So it stands to reason that it can be poised to benefit from almost any trend, said Marc Brush, a principal in the consultancy Bend LLC.

The personal pandemic experience

“You’ve had plenty of time to sit at home, comb through the websites of peronsalized nutrition companies and find out what it’s all about,” ​Brush told NutraIngredients-USA.

“For the Personas and Care/ofs of the world, I would think this would be wind in their sails,” ​he said.

A recent market survey bears the idea out.   According to Arizton Advisory and Intelligence, the global personalized nutrition market is set to reach $16.7 billion by 2026, growing at 16.5% CAGR through the period.  The firm says the trend of companies adding new steps to their value chains, such as direct-to-customer delivery, data collection and data analytics, is driving the market growth.

Painting with too broad a brush

Brush said one caveat to this rosy picture would be if too many players jump on the bandwagon and dilute the message to the point where it becomes meaningless. 

“The risk is that is has just become such a buzzword now,” ​Brush said.

“If anyone has any sort of angle for their product they can call it personalized.  Say you’ve got a product that’s great at building muscle mass in older people, and you’ll say it’s ‘personalized’ for older people,” ​Brush said.

That’s not to say that legitimate development of personalized options within categories can’t happen, Brush.  It is happening now.

For example, Big Bold Health, one of Brush’s clients and the brainchild of longtime leading industry figure Dr Jeffrey Bland, is personalizing its immune health options.  A questionnaire on the brand’s website purports to delivery something called the consumers ‘personal immuno-identity.’

Keeping the cost under control

Another barrier to realizing the sky’s-the-limit market projections has been the high price of some of the offerings.  Some companies that have taken a high end approach, gathering lots of expensive biometric data from consumers, have found it difficult to sell enough of them on the idea that whatever improved health outcome they’ll enjoy will be worth that cost.

According to market research firm Lux Research products that have been overly complex without a clear enough value proposition have failed to make sufficient headway.  The category is potentially sensitive to price concerns because most personalized nutrition options are out-of-pocket expenses not covered by insurance.

“One of the biggest barriers to success with personalized nutrition has been in pricing and aligning product value to what users need,” ​said Thomas Hayes, an analyst at Lux.

Consultant Steve Hanson, CEO of Nutrasocial, agreed that keeping complexity to a minimum is key to helping consumers understand the value proposition.

"When looking at personalized products, there are typically two components involved. One is some type of assessment, whether it be a questionnaire or diagnostic test, and the other is being able to produce and deliver a personalized product. Being able to make both these elements simple to understand and implement is key to getting broader use and acceptance of personalized supplements,”​ Hanson said.

"With the pandemic, we've definitely witnessed an acceleration of the shift from retail to online sales. This shift to online makes the logistics easier for personalization as the assessment portion is easier to administer and the products can cater to these assessments and more targeted health needs. It may not always be one-to-one personalized, but it definitely is a shift towards more personalization,” ​he added.

Having success with a pared-down approach

One company that has taken the lower cost route and found significant success is the supplement manufacturer Care/of.  The company, which was acquired by Bayer last year in a deal reportedly worth $225 million, uses online questionnaires to personalize packs of vitamins and other supplements for consumers. The personalized packs might contain as few as two supplements or as many as 14.

“People lead very different lives today than before the pandemic.  They have different dietary habits or different sleep habits. The pandemic was and continues to be very stressful,”​ said Diana Morgan . 

“Depending on the person you could react by becoming very lethargic.  In that case we might recommend rhodiola, which is going to help give you energy during those stressful moments,” ​she said.

“Or you might be a person who becomes overstimulated.  Then we might recommend an adaptogenic herb like ashwagandha,”​ Morgan added.

Simple, trustworthy approach

The questionnaire takes about five minutes to complete, Morgan said.  She said the company has worked hard to make it simple enough for consumers to understand and easily complete yet detailed enough to give valuable answers.

A key, she said, is trust in that relationship.  Trust that the products delivered are really the right ones for each individual, and that they’re made with quality ingredients.  That has become more of a challenge during the pandemic as raw material prices have risen and economic adulteration concerns have, too.

“Especially in herbals and in sports nutrition we have to really hunker down on FSMA (Food Safety Modernizaiton Act) and ID and purity.  You have to really test the products and be transparent about the testing,”​ she said.

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