The rise of self-diagnostics: 'The future of nutrition is hyper-personalized'

By Olivia Haslam

- Last updated on GMT

© Guido Mieth / Getty Images
© Guido Mieth / Getty Images

Related tags Technology AI personalisation Machine learning Data

With the growing focus on personalization, the industry should present authentic data and information rather than scaring consumers into purchasing, experts agreed at the recent Future of Food Summit in Geneva ahead of Vitafoods Europe.

Márcia Costa, research manager for healthcare at industry insight firm Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, highlighted a rise in self-diagnostics reflecting a shift towards more proactive approaches to health.

“I see a huge appetite for people to track and monitor their data and their own progress,” she said. “We have become so much more data-driven when discussing nutrition, exercise, and mindfulness.

“The wellness market is really rising and being spurred on by consumer autonomy, as they can now decide when, where and with whom they want to access healthcare.”

The observation was echoed by Grace Noboa Hidalgo, director of product innovation at Walgreens Boots Alliance, who stressed consumers are looking to more advanced nutrition solutions to fill the gaps in primary healthcare, no longer relying on medications for conditions like diabetes and obesity as they adopt a multi-pronged, holistic approach. 

“I think the future of nutrition is hyper-personalized,” she noted. “Consumers today are demanding personalization in every aspect of their lives and probably even more so in nutrition.” 

Noboa Hidalgo believes that personalization gives consumers a feeling of autonomy over their own health, which in itself is empowering. 

“We’re going to see exponential growth of personalization and use of AI that can be trained by registered dietitians—so not just giving out standardized information to the consumer but offering them services to support their journey," she said. 

Importance of data

Ian Noble, VP of R&D, research and analytical at Mondelēz International, noted during a panel discussion titled "NPD strategies for next-gen consumers" that product redevelopment is necessary to meet consumer demands, particularly given the dynamic nature of retail.

"We’re seeing particularly large growth in the middle-class population, more people reaching a more affluent status, and because of that, we’ll see more people joining the workforce and in need of convenience and 360 experiences in nutrition," he said.

The 360-experience will drive personalization, Noble explained, and while AI is showing a lot of promise, he believes data still has a way to go before it can be relied upon.

"The key thing for AI to work on the development level when it comes to nutrition advice is you've got to have the data, you really need to understand the functional components, how they perform, singularly in combination," he said. "The future of tech and AI will be propelled by having the right data sources."

Yet many brands will be a long way off from having both the budget and research resources to properly feed AI models, Noble added, expressing that it will be an interesting space to keep a close eye on.

The risk of over-personalization 

Alex Glover, nutrition development lead at Holland & Barrett, noted during the panel discussion that as consumers look for increased personalization, the industry must be careful not to scare them into believing they need to track everything. 

"I get a little bit concerned about over-personalization sometimes,” he said. “I'm seeing a lot of blood glucose monitoring in normal individuals, a lot of aggressive language like ‘spike’ and ‘crash’ being used online, but this can really damage people’s relationship with food and nutrition."

He explained there is a strong future in personalization but only when the data is relevant, adding that the key will lie in "helping the consumer understand the level of personalization that is appropriate for them" rather than scaring them into cutting foods and taking supplements. 

Challenging misinformation 

Glover also addressed the impact of easily accessible information and social media on product scrutiny.

"We've got a very curious consumer, and now they have an infinite knowledge at their fingertips," he said. "Social media means that products are under constant scrutiny, as people will just search an ingredient or product on TikTok. We're seeing a growing trend of scientific communication being distilled, presented not using loads of jargon."

James Collier, co-founder of complete nutrition meal brand Huel, emphasized the challenge of combating misinformation with macro influencers (with large followings) often seen as more credible than those providing accurate information. 

"Consumers want to be informed, but realistically, how can they be with so much misinformation out there?" he asked. 

He added that while bite-size information on social media sites such as TikTok can serve well in communication and marketing, the industry has yet to figure out how to present real scientific evidence in an accessible way.  

“A maximum of 90 seconds is not enough time to review a scientific paper and present that to an audience, and nobody reads the captions,” he said. “We're going to need to really look at how we can do better at informing consumers credibly.”

Related topics Markets Personalized Nutrition

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