Making metabolic health fun and futuristic
Niamh Michail, head of publishing at Vitafoods Europe, hosted a virtual panel discussion (hosted on 3rd May) on Metabolic health opportunities, and opened the show by stating that “only 12% of US adults are metabolically healthy."
She explained: "A healthy metabolism means that your body can digest and absorb nutrients from the food that you eat without unhealthy spikes in blood sugar, insulin, blood fat and inflammation."
Metabolic health has become a significant area of interest for the nutrition industry due to the growing awareness of the impact of diet and lifestyle on chronic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.
As such, consumers are seeking microbiome modulating solutions that not only address their specific health concerns but also support their overall wellbeing.
Michail states: “There’s a huge opportunity here for food and nutrition brands to create products that do offer genuine solutions in that case.”
Dr. Raphaëlle O’Connor, director at product development company Inewtrition, joined the discussion to explain that there are three key spaces in metabolic health; weight management, gut health and blood sugar or diabetes.
She notes that products and services tend to look at these in isolation or combination, and they key companies working in this space include: Biolumen, creating 3d structured fibre; Flore, creating precision probiotics; and a number of innovators in the gut health testing space.
Education and taking inspiration
Included in the panel was also Mike Hughes, head of research and insight at FMCG Gurus, who stated: “Consumers recognise the importance of having a good metabolism, even if they can't necessarily define what that is.”
Hughes explained that consumers want microbiome modulating products that support their metabolic health but these can come with gastrointestinal side effects.
He said consumers want functional food and supplements to be 'compromise-free' in order to be able to incorporate them into lifestyles long term.
He warned that consumers are increasingly conscious about side effects, with FMCG data showing this will impact repeat purchases.
The solution lies in education, he said: “The industry needs to educate consumers to make sure that they're using these products in the right measures to minimise the risk of side effects.”
He suggested that the gut health market could take inspiration from the 'aspirational' sports nutrition market which positions products in a way that suggests they will level-up the consumer’s life in some way, not just keep them healthy.
He said despite some of the products in the sports nutrition market causing side effects, mostly around gastrointestinal symptoms, the market remains popular.
“The reason that consumers continue to turn to these sports nutrition products, is because they are seen as fun. They’re trendy, they’re energetic, they’re not positioned as something that's a requirement.”
He suggested brands position biotics as long-term products that can be integrated into an active lifestyle in an enjoyable way.
O’Connor pointed out it is important for innovation to be bespoke and to delivery a personalised service. She said: “My suggestion would be to be as bespoke and tailored as possible.”
She explained that consumers will be approaching products with a specific health objective, both short and long-term, meaning they have to be supported in their long-term journey.
“The opportunity around innovation is not only to have a product that is backed up by science and evidence but also have a support mechanism in terms of services and technology to help our consumer.
“Our target audience is on a journey of not only diet today, but wellness tomorrow, and for the foreseeable future. This kind of time frame is important, especially around customised or personalised nutrition.”
She explained that it is important to consider new product design from a consumer psychology and behaviour perspective.
She said: “All of those touch points aim to educate, communicate, and support them on their journey."
Hughes affirmed a shift towards personalisation, stating: “Consumers may not always recognise that their body struggles to absorb certain nutrients, and so what we're going to see is that consumers want more personalised products that they feel are suited to their specific needs and wants.”
He does however warn that the attention to innovation in personalised nutrition comes with challenges.
He stated: “There’s a lot of talk around innovation in the market around personalised nutrition and nutrition genetic testing where consumers provide DNA samples for real-time analysis of their health issues and then gain personalised supplements or advice.
“Whilst consumers recognise the benefits of personalised nutrition, there are several challenges that the industry faces, ranging from security issues, from the storage of DNA data, to the reliability of such information in the long term, and the ethics associated with giving healthy young adults information that they may not know in regard to their health.”
Hughes concluded that accessible and full personalisation is a considerable time away, but that “in the immediate term, there's a real opportunity around customisation that can be done in slower, more gradual ways."
He noted it is important for personalised nutrition to be implemented in an ethical and responsible manner, with consideration given to issues such as equity, privacy, and accuracy, concluding: “In the short term, it will be more generally customised offerings that will be a hotbed of innovation.”