NewtritionX Summit 2019: Debunking fake nutrition news could bring personalized nutrition to mass market
10 Oct 2019 --- As personalized nutrition eyes the mass market, strategic partnerships between tech-savvy start-ups and larger companies will be crucial to mainstream growth. But, as social-media hungry consumers continue to digest nutrition information from a range of self-professed nutrition gurus, where does the onus lie on regulating nutritional knowledge and debunking fake news? In this part two coverage from the summit, NutritionInsight speaks with Dr. Simone Frey on these topics following her talk at the NewtritionX Summit 2019, held within Anuga 2019 in Cologne, Germany.
Dr. Frey’s company, a B2B platform for nutrition experts called NutritionHub, clarifies facts for businesses and consumers eyeing the personalized nutrition platform.
“Personalized nutrition is a new product and service. It’s about to enter the mass market, but we are not yet there. When we speak about personalized nutrition here at Anuga or with other businesses, it seems like everything is clear. But when you speak to the average consumer, it becomes clear that there is confusion. We position the nutrition experts in the space and ecosystem to share more knowledge about nutrition,” she says.
Indeed, a 2018 consumer study conducted by DSM found that only seven percent of people in Europe are confident about what the term “personalized nutrition” means. In the UK, 55 percent of respondents had never heard of personalized nutrition, and levels of experience of the approach are low across Europe.
A barrier to overcome in the space is the rise of self-professed nutrition experts on social media platforms, such as Instagram. Dr. Frey details that in Germany, so-called social media nutrition experts outnumber qualified nutritionists nine to one. This means that consumers may receive doubtful nutrition information nine times for every one nugget of actual certified nutrition.
So-called nutrition gurus or fit girls (and boys) can amass followers in the millions, but they often pump out advice that medical professionals and qualified nutritionists may not agree with. From positioning celery juice as cancer-curing nectar to pushing a diet that consists of 50 bananas a day, some of the nutrition advice can even border on reckless.
“Social media is great because with that the access to information has been democratized. But it has also led to everyone talking about nutrition, and everyone having an opinion on it,” says Dr. Frey. “But as we are speaking about a science here, it needs to be about facts.”
“Self-professed experts may talk about nutrition, but it's often not evidence-driven. It may work for one individual, but not others.”
This could even chip away at the trust consumers hold for nutrition. “There is a big imbalance. So, if we can balance this, we could reverse the impact. More qualified nutritionists could be one way, for example.”
Social media has also come under the nutrition spotlight as experts have linked the rise of social media health pages with cases of orthorexia nervosa. The condition is a putative eating disorder vying for a place in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), roughly translating to “eating right.” According to Dr. Cristina Hanganu-Bresch, such social media health pages peddle potentially harmful narratives around health and thinness, as opposed to sound nutritional advice. The ease with which half-baked nutrition science gets circulated is one factor that creates the ideal conditions for orthorexia, Dr. Hanganu-Bresch notes.
Partnering up for innovation
Aside from ensuring quality nutrition advice reaches the ears of consumers, personalized nutrition can be brought to the masses through start-ups being taken on by the venturing arms of larger companies.
The space has been busy, with direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing (GT) becoming increasingly popular, for example. A host of companies such as Ancestry.com and 23andMe market genetic “insights” into ancestry and physical attributes. This consumer hype has been reflected by a 23andMe website announcement in 2017 that it had genotyped more than two million customers. Canada-based Nutrigenomix also recently developed the first genetic test kit to be used exclusively by healthcare professionals.
Yet financial challenges faced by start-ups can hinder their innovation mission, which means consolidation rates are high as larger companies provide investment and business support.
“What we see now in the new phase is that the start-ups are truly tech and science-driven, and they will continue to develop the market and have really smart partnerships. A restaurant that provides personalized food may partner up with a diagnostic company, for example,” she says.
The notion of “venturing” is pivotal to a company such as DSM. Last year, the Dutch multinational announced that it set aside around €3 billion (US$3.4 billion) to expand its nutrition business, as it moves further away from its heritage chemical positioning. Last year, DSM and digital health company Mixfit also entered into a strategic partnership to deliver personalized nutrition solutions, aiming to provide individuals with the right blend of nutrients based on a set of health and activity measurements.
In the same realm, Nestlé and Irish biotech company Nuritas entered into a collaboration to uncover bioactive peptide networks within “specific target areas of significant value.” Meanwhile, in August, Nestlé Health Science (NHSc) is expanded into personalized nutrition with the acquisition of Persona, a personalized vitamin business founded in 2017 and in July, Mayo Clinic and Viome – a company transforming health through personalized nutrition based on individual and microbiome biology – joined forces to better understand the role of nutrition in disease.
So, the start-up winners here will be the ones that set up smart partnerships with companies that may not even be from the space. “We see companies that were not connected to food and nutrition to suddenly being active in the space,” concludes Dr. Frey.
Also speaking at the NewtritionX summit was Michael Gusko, Managing Director of GoodMills Innovation, tackling the topic of the role for ingredients companies and innovation around grains.
While on the showfloor on Anuga, cannabidiol (CBD)-infused offerings, disruptive protein drinks, lab-grown meat cultivated in outer space, bakery products inspired by millenials and the fusing of beauty from within and on-the-go formats, were prominent.
By Laxmi Haigh
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