Nard Clabbers, senior business developer in personalised nutrition and health at TNO (a scientific research and innovation centre in the Netherlands), led a compelling panel discussion on personalisation at the Future Food Tech summit in London last week (October 18).
He pointed out that despite all the hard work done by new personalisation companies, some of their users will inevitably gain little benefit.
“One of the biggest predictors of how well people are going to follow advice is their belief in self-fixing – that you trust that your actions will change your future - if you have the idea you can influence your own future then you will be much better at following advice.”
Actually, tech companies are at the mercy of their users’ mindsets right from the off, as Rob Beudeker, senior investment manager for DSM Ventures in the Netherlands, pointed out.
“In order to make it relevant to the consumer we have to get feedback from the consumer about how they feel which involves them answering questions about themselves and their emotional wellbeing.
“I think the most difficult data to get from a person is their daily food intake because people hate to answer those sorts of questions and they like to lie about that sort of thing and for personalised nutrition we rely on being able to measure this factor effectively.”
Clabbers believes another aspect that will have a huge influence on the efficacy of the technology is people’s social environment.
“If the technology user is surrounded by supportive friends and family then they are likely to succeed. If they’re not, then they’re extremely unlikely to.”
Ian Wilcock, an investment advisor with particular interest in the microbiome at Seventure Partners UK, agreed this is inevitable when new and exciting technologies are just emerging adding that many new companies will likely fail.
“I think it’s expected that you’ll have a lot of hype at this stage. There’s a lot of tools available now that weren’t available a short time ago and we’ve got a lot of hype from the technology sectors. This industry could lose a lot of money in the short term before it settles down.”
How much is the right amount of data?
Wilcock added that the amount of information given and when it’s given could influence people’s likelihood to act on the insight.
“We can be bombarded with messages but what’s most effective for changing the behaviour of the person using the technology? I think the important thing is to provide the information at the right time for that individual – at a time which will actually help them to change their behaviour in a meaningful and long term way.”
The investment advisor argues that the key to success lies in ensuring your company has a one clear and realistic vision. He gives the example of Day Two, in which Seventure Partners has invested.
“They look at sugar management and diabetes and they are trying to reduce the swings in blood sugar levels. This group was usually quite motivated because when they saw a warning they would take control by changing their diet. It’s plans like that which are well routed in a particular application that we are interested in. Those that come along and say something like ‘we’re going to cure death in 15 years’, we’re not so interested in.”
Becoming a necessity
He added that he is looking forward to seeing how the government and large corporate companies embrace these new technologies in the future.
“Socially responsible large companies will start evidencing how they are keeping their staff healthy because it will help their brand.
“We can’t afford to have another generation getting less fit and healthy so I think the pressure is bound to move from trying to treat the ill, to enforcing a healthier lifestyle – whether that will be government led I don’t know.”
The panel’s answer to how start-ups can succeed in this industry was collaboration.
Gil Blander, founder and chief scientific officer at Segterra (personalisation model Insidetracker) USA, pointed out: “There are a lot of small companies coming into this space and I think the next step for them is getting partnership with big companies. For example, at InsideTracker we have a lot of interest from people wanting to use our technology to bring it to the mass market such as ingredient manufacturers, supermarkets and life insurance companies so we are a platform for everyone.”