Personalised nutrition: What do consumers really think of this new trend?

Personalised nutrition has gained a huge amount of attention in recent years and has already proven to be hugely profitable for companies providing it as a service. In fact business intelligence platform, Statista, valued the global personalised nutrition market at an estimated 8.2 billion US dollars in 2020 and expects that figure to double by 2025.

But how do consumers really feel about personalised nutrition? And is this a trend that will continue to grow or fade into obscurity as so many health trends have before it?

What is personalised nutrition?

Personalised nutrition, sometimes referred to as precision nutrition, is individualised dietary advice or nutrition guidelines based on a combination of an individual’s genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors.

Factors dictating nutritional advice include dietary habits, health status, phenotype, gut microbiome, and genotype. Personalised nutrition focuses on health promotion.

What are the benefits of personalised nutrition?

The primary benefit to personalised nutrition is, yes you’ve guessed it, it’s personalised. This means that an individual is advised on what to eat based on their specific dietary requirements and taking into account any pre-existing health conditions and allergies.

“The key benefit of personalised nutrition is that it is unique to everyone,” Klaus Grunert, director of the Consumer Observatory, told FoodNavigator. “We have the technology and innovation available to offer consumers with targeted advice about their health based on the food they eat. Rather than offering consumers with a one-size-fits-all approach to health advice, personalised nutrition considers individual data to offer targeted advice which is optimal for them and their health.”

Personalised nutrition is also believed to fill a need by consumers to understand their own health and dietary requirements more.

“Personalised nutrition is different for everyone,” explains Grunert. “If consumers feel that current available advice is not suitable for them and their needs, personalised nutrition could be a good necessary solution. But some people can find out how to eat healthily without such advice.”

Personalised nutrition: What do consumers really think of this new trend? GettyImages/fcafotodigital

What are the criticisms of personalised nutrition?

Despite the very clear benefits to personalised nutrition, it has raised some concerns amongst consumers. One of the most prominent of these concerns being with regards to data protection​.

A recent report​ published by EIT Food Consumer Observatory, has found that, “most consumers are concerned with how much data is collected, who will have access to it and that it is kept secure.”

The report, co-funded by the European Union, goes on to advise the industry that, “data privacy needs to be very tightly and clearly regulated and consumers need to be reassured that this is happening.”

Another concern regarding personalised nutrition is the cost​. High one-time payments, followed by an ongoing subscription cost, have resulted in many believing personalised nutrition is accessible to wealthy consumers alone. However, this is expected to change over time.

“One of the barriers to consumers’ uptake of personalised nutrition tools is indeed the perceived price,” says Grunert. “Participants in the Consumer Observatory study felt that the tools were unaffordable and out of reach but as prices lower and innovation develops, companies will need to work to change this narrative of economic inaccessibility by being more transparent with prices and outcomes up-front.”

But, until the cost of personalised nutrition does come down, and there is no guarantee that it will, it will continue to be inaccessible to low-income consumers. This is a particular issue as high-income consumers are likely to already have a better diet in comparison to low-income consumers and so are less likely to require additional nutritional assistance.

According to the National Library of Medicine, “low income is associated with a poor-quality dietary intake. Compared to those with higher income, lower income individuals consume fewer fruits and vegetables, more sugar-sweetened beverages and have lower overall diet quality.”

The Consumer Observatory report also found that consumers are wary that personalised nutrition could just be a ‘marketing gimmick’​.

“Consumers need to believe that nutritional science has their back and that this is not a gimmick that will be discredited,” the report concluded.

Personalised Nutrition - GettyImages-vaaseenaa

Personalised nutrition: What do consumers really think of this new trend? GettyImages/vaaseenaa

The future of personalised nutrition

Though there are concerns surrounding personalised nutrition, it is a sector that is expected to grow in the coming years.

“Brands should expect more development in personalisation,” says Rick Miller, food & drink associate director for specialised nutrition at Mintel. He goes on to explain that, “technology is the driver for future innovation and addressing emerging health concerns.”

However, recent job cuts at personal nutrition brand, Zoe​, could perhaps be a sign that the personalised nutrition trend is stalling.

“After experiencing huge growth in 2023 and inflated growth forecasts, the team was over-expanded and costs need to be cut,” said Jonathan Wolf, co-founder and CEO of Zoe, while discussing the cuts on his LinkedIn page.

“It’s clear there is a general understanding among consumers of the potential for personalised nutrition to improve their health,” explains Grunert. “But without advancements from the industry in communication, transparency, or education, as cited by consumers in the Consumer Observatory study, the sector could be at a crossroads for progress. For personalised nutrition to be embedded in daily diets, consumers are not only seeking the solutions but the supporting information and reassurance that go with them.”