Personalized Nutrition Hacks for Traditional Manufacturers


You don’t need microbiome data to create personalized nutrition products for the modern consumer

Personalized nutrition, where individual nutrition needs are analyzed based on data such as gut bacteria and genetic makeup, is a recurring theme in predictions about the future of food. A small number of companies already offer this niche service, giving consumers prescriptive nutrition plans or custom meal kits. But the costly technology needed for this level of customization is out of reach for a majority of consumers and manufacturers, and the resulting nutritional micro-groups may be prohibitively small for large suppliers.

Still, in this era of individualization, consumers want to purchase “made to fit” items tailored to their personalized nutrition needs. How can traditional manufacturers compete? By analyzing what we already know about the categorical wants and nutritional needs of specific market segments, it’s possible to make personalized products that will offer benefits to consumer subgroups.

To illustrate how consumer insights, nutrition science and research and development work together to create personalized nutrition products, we looked at three similar market segments—active nutrition, lifestyle nutrition and wellness nutrition—and recruited three experts to share their recommendations for taking a more individualized approach to product development.

The Experts:

Orlaigh Matthews, Business Development Manager and a registered dietitian, studied consumer insights to define each market group

Nathan Pratt, RD&A Scientist, Nutrition and a registered dietitian, pulled scientific data to provide personalized nutrition recommendations for each market group

Noman Khan, RD&A Director, Liquid Beverages, analyzed group characteristics and nutritional recommendations and to provide customized application suggestions


Pictured left to right: Orlaigh Matthews, Nathan Pratt, Noman Khan

Hacking Personalized Nutrition:

Example Segment 1: Active Nutrition
Market Insight: As consumers become more aware of the impact of diet and nutrition on health, active nutrition is moving more mainstream. More consumers are increasing their activity levels and participating in activities such as triathlons and CrossFit. With this shift, active nutrition consumers are looking for more holistic products and creating demand for cleaner formulations to fuel their game. High on their list of wants are alternative protein sources, such as plant-based diets, fewer ingredients and reduced sugar. For example, according to the 2018 Mintel Global New Products Database, a majority of sports drink consumers prefer drinks with ingredients they recognize and the number of sports drink products launched without additives or preservatives grew by 10% between 2013 and 2017.

Nutrition Insight: Although protein is the current star and foundation of active nutrition products designed to support lean body mass and satiety, carbohydrates are essential to fuel any exercise. Getting the right amount of fiber and keeping sugar in check are also important when making products that fit a wide variety of active nutrition consumers, from committed athletes to weekend warriors. Some ingredients have a strong following amongst athletes but have yet to make it to the mainstream, including Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs), nitrates and immune-boosting products that can reduce the number of missed training days due to illness.

R&D Insight: As athletes look for increased levels of proteins and reduced sugar, it creates a unique challenge for R&D to meet those nutritional needs and deliver a great tasting product. Thankfully, there are more tools available than ever before to combat these tough developmental hurdles. Protein suppliers are creating ingredients that taste cleaner—sometimes due to significant improvements in masking technologies—yet maintain their functional properties. Taste modulators also play a role in this segment: as consumers aim to reduce sugar, developers leverage solutions that enhance sweetness perception without adding ingredients to the label. These developments are paving the way for more natural and tasty products such as clean label protein shakes and powders, including ones with immune strengthening ingredients.

Example Segment 2: Lifestyle Nutrition
Market Insight: Many consumers are staying away from diets as we know them and instead adopting lifestyle nutrition approaches. Whether the intention is weight loss or not, consumers are studying labels to see if they offer beneficial ingredients such as “healthy” fats, brain-boosting natural energizers, antioxidants and proteins—both plant and animal-based. The prevalence of Instagram hashtags including #yoga, #keto and #paleo (53.5m, 7.3m and 12.8m mentions, respectively) illustrates some of the most popular lifestyle movements driving this group, although there are plenty of subgroups such as "bio-hackers," members of the tech and gaming community for whom focus is a priority.

Nutrition Insight: As with active nutrition, protein and fiber are the nutritional foundation for this group. This lifestyle segment is often focused on weight management, so the benefits of helping maintain muscle mass during weight loss as well as supporting satiety to avoid overeating—both associated with protein and fiber—are key. Being able to put real fruits and vegetables into convenient formats, like beverages and snack bars, will also help this group meet their lifestyle nutrition approaches. Finally, botanicals with health effects, like baobab or turmeric, provide a sense of intrigue to consumers in this category.

R&D Insight: While products designed for this category started out with a focus on “deprivation”—such as Paleo’s no grains and low-carbs—as this segment grows, so will the expectation for taste. One challenge for developers is to bring a level cravability to products so consumers actually look forward to consuming them. As we start to add other functional benefits, additional challenges emerge. However, an increasing number of tools can help R&D deliver against big challenges, such as having no sugar to play with in a snack bar high in fat, or the need to find synergy between a focus-enhancing or wellness-promoting ingredient and botanicals such as turmeric when formulating a green energy drink.

Example Segment 3: Wellness Nutrition
Market Insight: Ninety percent of U.S. adults consider their lifestyle to be “healthy,” according to Mintel, and many are more focused on health maintenance than solving a specific health problem. These health maintainers make up their own market segment, and in today’s climate, consumers often equate clean label with wellness nutrition. The group is vast: A recent Nielsen report found 68% of consumers say they would pay more for foods and beverages that don’t contain ingredients they perceive as being bad for them. And the organic food market hit a record $45.2 billion in sales in 2017, according to the Organic Trade Association’s 2018 Organic Industry Survey. Other claims that appeal to this demographic include “grass-fed,” “GMO-free,” “natural” and “free-from”.

Nutrition Insight: This is a group that’s very focused on avoiding negatives, such as artificial flavors, preservatives, dairy and gluten. As manufacturers, the most important thing to remember is that clean label products aren’t necessarily healthier. Cookies without artificial flavors are still cookies, but this group will choose them because they perceive them as being healthier. Product developers should help make that true by crafting “free-from” products low in sugar and calories but high in nutrition. For instance, gluten-free products can be formulated to offer the same amount of fiber and vitamins as similar products with gluten and dairy-free products can contain the same amount of vitamin D, calcium, potassium and protein as dairy products.

R&D Insight: Necessity breeds innovation. For instance, the demand for vegan-friendly protein products has inspired dairy-free foods and beverages comparable in taste to their dairy counterparts. The nutrition of these plant-based proteins are also rising, with some attaining a Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) of 1.0, which is comparable to dairy. Many are made without soy—another hot-button ingredient—and are also low in sugar. Of course, the more simple a product, the easier it is to keep free of ingredients consumers don’t want, which may be one reason health enhanced waters are a growing category. What started out a water with a lot of sugar and vitamins has become low-sugar and more functional; we're seeing growth in protein waters and waters enhanced with exotic herbs and botanicals such as cranberry, green tea and ginseng.

To appeal to consumers seeking personalized nutrition, it is important to define a market segment, study their specific nutritional needs and craft solutions that will speak directly to them. To partner with Kerry, and access proprietary consumer insights and skilled scientists, contact us.

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