This was the question answered by Mariette Abrahams, personalised nutrition thought leader and founder of the market consultancy Qina, during her presentation at the Active Nutrition Summit in Amsterdam last week (Oct 9-11). The conference was hosted by NutraIngredients.
She explained that the Qina platform is tracking around 680 companies in the industry at the moment, some of which have recently shut down, adding that "this year was brutal" in terms of closures.
Discussing the variety of products on the market, she said survey-based personalisation is utilised by the majority of companies (46%) but microbiome health-based companies have increased by about 14% and the number of DNA based companies on the market has increased by 26% in the last year as there is more interest in epigenetics and increasing lifespan.
“But the biggest growth is in the metabolite sector and this is where things like glucose monitors are some of the most interesting things happening," she said.
Despite the many new technologies and the growing consumer awareness, she warned the biggest challenge for firms is still user engagement and adherence to advice.
"Companies are attempting to improve this through a wide range of solutions, from tracking and logging, chatbots, recipes, meal plans and shopping lists to make advice actionable."
Discussing chatbots, Abrahams advised these are extremely effective in terms of allowing the user to self-educate and build better habits.
“These are very convenient and provide instant feedback, motivation and support as they are constantly there. They can also raise the level of self-competency as the user is able to improve their knowledge and know what to do in the moment of need. It also helps increase accountability better than services that don’t have experts to help consumers make the changes.”
She noted that conversational chatbots, aka digital assistants, are expected to grow by 270% between 2021 and 2026 indicating "AI isn’t something that’s just a trend or fad, it’s going to be integrated at so many levels into solutions, and consumers will come to expect that real time interaction as well".
She noted the downsides are that they can be biased, they require a lot of data, and they lack empathy.
"In fact, according to Botletics, these downsides mean that around 40% of users stop using a chatbot after the first message and another 25% are gone after the second engagement," she said, "so having a bot that can understand what the person is trying to say as accurately as possible is very important.”
Abrahams advised not to rely on AI as it’s more effective to provide human interaction alongside a chatbot when it comes to consumer engagement with interventions.
ChatGPT is opening new opportunities by providing real time advice for consumers at any time.
But Abrahams warned: "it can make stuff up. In some case they’ve taken research and made up a reference so you have to be very careful in terms of automation bias.”
She added that it doesn’t provide advice based on the quality of evidence available either, so should be used with great caution.
Voice logging is emerging as a useful solution for helping increase engagement and food logging although there are currently only around 10 solutions on the market that incorporate this functionality.
Abrahams discussed research revealing voice logging has led to more frequent loggings over a longer period of time (Liang et al 2022) but the technology is still in its infancy so accuracy is only around 83% and this is likely to be lower in areas where users have an accent.
Abrahams noted that digital twins - a virtual model designed to accurately reflect the user - are also great for serving up the right advice at the right time but they have the additional benefit of offering more predictive advice for the individual.
“This is an exciting area and opens new opportunities for personalisation because you can actually predict how individuals will respond to a meal or product before they eat it so you can intervene earlier," she explained.
“It allows for that real time feedback consumers are looking for and is where the industry is heading…So the opportunity here is really quite good.”
Abrahams noted a lot of opportunity to improve solutions and a big gap in terms of integrating behavioural science.
She said many services use goal setting, some use feedback monitoring, and some use education but “there’s a raft of additional behaviour change techniques that can be incorporate to help engage users”.
Looking to the future, she advised “we need to understand how to better match ingredients with digital tools” and asserted AI is a must-watch space as there will be more regulation coming out in this area.