Consumer packaged goods companies and market researchers see opportunities in personalization.

KANSAS CITY — Health and wellness is becoming more personal. As such technologies as individual fitness trackers, DNA testing and calorie counting apps continue to evolve, and consumers learn more about how different foods and the ingredients they contain may make them feel, the trend toward personalized nutrition will continue to grow. The realization has prompted several food and beverage companies to focus on how they may participate in the emerging market.

The Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J., generated headlines in late October when the company announced plans to invest $32 million in the personalized nutrition meal delivery start-up Habit, San Francisco. Launching in early 2017, Habit will develop nutrition recommendations and deliver personalized meals based on an individual’s biology, metabolism and personal goals, while offering one-on-one wellness and nutrition coaching. The start-up’s staff includes nutrition scientists, health advisers, researchers, technologists, registered dietitians, chefs, food scientists and business leaders.

Users provide such body metrics as height, weight and waist circumference, and complete an at-home test kit that measures more than 60 different biomarkers. The company uses a proprietary approach to synthesize the data and determine the best foods and nutrients based on the individual’s needs. A group of chefs prepares the custom meals, which are delivered to the consumer’s home.

Denise Morrison, Campbell
Denise Morrison, president and c.e.o. of Campbell Soup

“The entire food industry is being transformed by the fusion of food, well-being and technology,” said Denise Morrison, president and chief executive officer of Campbell Soup. “Habit is well positioned in this wired for well-being space and poised to lead the personalized nutrition category. Campbell’s investment is part of our broader efforts to define the future of food, which requires fresh thinking, new models of innovation, smart external development and venture investing to create an ecosystem of innovative partners.”

Nestle takes a leadership position

Campbell Soup is not the only consumer packaged goods company to express an interest in the possibilities of personalized nutrition. Nestle S.A., Vevey, Switzerland, has made the emerging category a focus. This past July the company announced a partnership with the digital electronics firm Samsung to collaborate on research to explore the potential of nutrition science and digital sensor technologies to provide insights into healthy living. The focus of the partnership is to develop a digital health platform that may provide individuals with more personalized recommendations around nutrition, lifestyle and fitness.

The long-term goal of the collaboration is to combine the “internet of things” technology and the growing ability of devices to connect with each other, with nutrition science to provide people with greater ownership of their quality of life, according to the companies. The first projects related to the initiative are scheduled to begin in early 2017, according to the company.

Nestle nutrition
Nestle and Samsung are collaborating on exploring the potential for combining nutrition science and digital sensor technologies.

The partnership with Samsung is only the latest effort by Nestle to capitalize on the opportunities offered by personalized nutrition. The launch of the company’s National Institute of Health Sciences (N.I.H.S.), Lausanne, Switzerland, in 2012 was built, in part, around the concept. Central to the institute’s mission was the recognition nutrition would become personalized in two different ways. First, management expected personalized nutrition would become targeted at specific needs. For example, the company is developing products for dysphagia patients with swallowing disorders to reduce the likelihood of complications such as lung infections. Since the institute’s founding Nestle has invested in a number of companies that research and manufacture products to address such needs.

Second, Nestle’s management expressed a belief that nutrition will become personalized through greater understanding of genetic and environmental interactions with food. Through the N.I.H.S., the company is involved in a variety of research efforts to further define how genetic and lifestyle factors may affect a person’s health.

One such effort currently under way is investigating cellular mitochondria, how it converts food into energy and how it affects an individual’s metabolism. The research, published Dec. 1 in the publication Cell Metabolism, notes that people who exercise frequently have more mitochondria in their cells than individuals who exercise less frequently. The research also showed that exercise not only increases the number of mitochondria; it also causes mitochondrial proteins linked to energy production to cluster together, allowing them to produce energy more effectively.

Kei Sakamoto
Kei Sakamoto, the head of diabetes and circadian rhythms at the N.I.H.S.
“…this study brings us one step closer to explaining the molecular mechanism by which exercise brings about health benefits, and to the future development of nutritional solutions that could echo the effects of exercise on the body’s metabolism,” said Kei Sakamoto, the head of diabetes and circadian rhythms at the N.I.H.S. “This research may one day lead to an improved understanding of how nutritional approaches may be applied for protection against metabolic disorders and cardiovascular complications. As a result, we could help people improve energy balance by triggering some of the same cellular mechanisms normally activated by exercise.”