Why Personal Nutrition Presents A Major Opportunity For Retailers

By Robert McHugh
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Why Personal Nutrition Presents A Major Opportunity For Retailers

Personalised nutrition is being embraced more and more by consumers, supported by the availability of technology to track our day-to-day lifestyles. After all, in the information age, it only seems natural that the consumer would want to know more about their most valuable commodity – themselves!

To some, the rise of the personalised nutrition revolution might seem like nothing more than modern navel-gazing, another consequence of social media influencer culture.

However, others – including many retailers – are evangelistic about the potential impact that the new trend will have on the health of consumers and societies overall.

The EIT Food Consumer Observatory has released a new report which aims to get a better understanding of how consumers perceive this topic.

The report, Personalised Nutrition: a category exploration of Personal Nutrition (PN) services, gathered data on consumer perceptions across their awareness and understanding of personalised nutrition, how they use personal nutrition to achieve their health goals, their preferences on how to receive information, and what tools they find the most useful.


What Is Personal Nutrition?

Before going any further, it is probably a good idea, to give a definition of personal nutrition in the context of retail and modern consumerism.

It can be explained as a product or service that gathers specialised information on an individual through evidence-based science and then makes suggestions or recommendations based on the results.

The EIT Food Consumer Observatory has noted that there are many variations on this approach and that the input can be based on lifestyle/behavioural (e.g., exercise, weight), phenotypical (e.g., blood sample), or microbiome information (e.g., stool sample).

"Personalised nutrition companies offer tools which provide consumers with personalised data about their bodies and nutrition," Klaus Grunert, director of the EIT Food Consumer Observatory, tells ESM. "This means that consumers who engage with personalised nutrition are offered bespoke advice, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach.


"Personal advice may take the form of a targeted meal plan based on setting personalised nutritional targets or advice and remedies to support individuals to manage specific conditions."

So far, so good. However, where this can become tricky is when personal nutrition information is gathered in the context of receiving a plan through an employer or health insurer.

In the context of a health insurer, there could be concerns that information gathered in a personal nutrition plan could affect premiums, or even whether a consumer receives an insurance plan at all. Likewise, some consumers may be uneasy with their employers having access to data contained in a Personal Nutrition Plan. After all, what is more personal than an individual's medical history?

Tailored Approach

EIT Food Consumer Observatory's report indicates that there is no-one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to personalised nutrition.


According to the report, there are three main categories of personalised nutrition tools that consumers have a preference for – those that help consumers get their own lab results, those that assist consumers with lifestyle changes, and those specific to certain health conditions.

The study indicates that consumers want clear and quantifiable data. Some consumers in the study had concerns about how to use the technology required to acquire samples, while others expressed doubts about their ability to understand the results once measured.

In addition, personalised nutrition is only possible due to advancements in technology within the health sector "so the two are already intertwined," says Grunert. "Consumers who engage with personalised nutrition typically need to be comfortable with using apps."

In addition, Grunert says personalised nutrition tools are making increasing use of AI support, "This can improve the quality of the advice and provide for a better user interface, but raises new issues in terms of consumer trust and acceptance."


Personal Information

One of the significant barriers to consumers’ uptake of personalised nutrition concerns data privacy.

Where consumers are sharing personal information, Grunert says they should proceed with caution, but the responsibility of building trust falls to the businesses or organisations managing such services.

"Our study includes recommendations on how companies can build trust with consumers: data privacy needs to be tightly and clearly regulated, and processes must be communicated to consumers in a unified way. Transparency will be the key for companies in getting consumers on side," says Grunert.

"Also, personalised nutrition approaches differ considerably in the type of personal information needed. Medical or genetic information can be perceived as more invasive of privacy but gives additional possibilities for tailored advice. This is a difficult balance that companies need to manage."

Likewise, others in the study felt more confident with trained medical personnel analysing data in a more professional setting.

According to several respondents, getting your own lab results may be more 'personal' but less 'personalised' than going to a GP if you want to talk about your personal health.

'Power And Agency'

The EIT Food Consumer Observatory argues that for personal nutrition to present a strong business case, consumers need to be more willing to share personal information.

The group argues that there needs to be trust that the information is handled securely and ethically, but also that the result is worth the amount of effort required.

"This bespoke advice gives consumers the power and agency to make informed and healthy decisions," says Grunert.

The observatory believes that personalised nutrition could be a 'great candidate' in engaging consumers to follow healthier diets, in a way that general, one-size-fits-all advice fails to do.

"The range and depth of information personalised nutrition tools can provide is exciting, and where information is power, personalised nutrition can put consumers in a great position to lead healthier lives," says Grunert.

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