Personalised nutrition meets food-tech and Covid-19

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NutritionInvestor takes a closer look at five food-tech brands tapping into a trend in which food is tailored to customers’ needs amid the Covid-19 pandemic

It is a basic principle: every food and drink purchase we make seeks to satisfy individual needs or preferences – energy, flavour, taste, dietary requirements, environmental belief, you name it. This explains why personalised nutrition has become a crucial facet of the marketing strategies of brands whose products claim to be healthier for us and better for the planet. 

Personalised nutrition used to be a buzz word in the scientific community. It refers to the approach that uses individual characteristics to develop nutritional advice for specific products and services. 

Mariette Abrahams, a nutrition business consultant and proponent of the concept, explains that personalised nutrition has entered the spotlight due to a range of factors.

“The consumer’s interest in health and nutrition, combined with the accessibility of information, thanks to the Internet and advances in technology, have all come together, and everybody can now find information at a time that suits them, and as quickly as they want it,” she says. “Now, whether the information people find is accurate or not, that’s a different issue,” she warns.

“Tools are now available for people to decide what they want to eat according to their personal preference and requirements”

Mariette Abrahams

Abrahams, who also founded personalised nutrition consultancy Qina, notes that retail shopping is a good example of personalised nutrition in our everyday life. 

“People shop according to what they know, or based on what they eat at home, or based on how their mother or grandmother shop,” she says. “Sometimes you shop following a suggestion from a colleague or friend.

Mariette Abrahams
Nutrition business consultant Mariette Abrahams

“With personalised nutrition, tools are now available for people to decide what they want to eat according to their personal preference and requirements, and make a decision on the choices they have available to them.”

The tools utilising personalised nutrition build profiles on customers based on their specific input on an app or online portal. 

Personalised nutrition and retail

It is easy to understand how personalised nutrition relates to consumers, but it is not so clear how food and drink companies should embrace it, given the abundance of options and wide-ranging customer needs.

“Companies were worried that they needed to make a product for every single person, which is humanly not possible,” says Abrahams. 

Companies are looking at specific consumer segments and tailoring products to a particular dietary requirement or preference from vegan to free-from, and so on. Personalisation can also be ingredient-specific or category-specific.

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Abrahams says meal kits producers provide a good cross-over example. These businesses represent a combination of products or services falling under food-tech. Companies offer a platform in which people create a profile with their goals, dietary needs and other preferences.

Teens looking at mobile to personalised food delivery

“Someone who wants to run the London Marathon, for example, can input the dietary and training requirements in the profile,” explains Abrahams. “The company would develop a meal plan for the whole training period and post the meal kit to the person at an agreed set of deliveries. This applies to snacks and complete meals.”

The brands

NutritionInvestor has identified several companies in the UK and US that have tapped into personalised nutrition from different angles. These are Fresh Fitness Food, Freshly, Kiago, Gousto, and Kafoodle.

London-based Fresh Fitness Food was founded by Jared Williams out of his flat in Notting Hill in 2012. The company started by producing just 12 meals a day and has grown into a profitable business, delivering 1,000 meals daily to customers across London.

Freshly provides consumers with healthy, on-demand meals delivered to their doors ready to heat in a microwave in under three minutes. The US-based firm was founded by Michael Wystrach and Carter Comstock in 2012. In 2017, Swiss foods giant Nestlé led a $77 million Series C funding round for the start-up.

Freshly reported 4.2 million meal deliveries in March and is nearing one million per week, up 60% from last August.

The onset of Covid-19 accelerated Freshly’s decision to launch a B2B service with the same ethos. The company has partnered with PwC, KPMG and other major firms to kick-off the plans, which were originally scheduled for later in the year.

New York-based Kaigo is in the business of delivering tailor-made grocery boxes to consumers. The company sources fresh ingredients, groceries and everyday staples from local suppliers with the aim to help consumers meet specific health goals.

In February, Kaigo secured $3 million in seed funding from angel investor Mike Lee, the founder of MyFitnessPal, and Micromanagement Ventures, a venture capital firm founded by the late former NBA commissioner David Stern.

Growth amid Covid-19 lockdown

Meal kits delivered to customers’ doors, and meal collections, have proven to be a perfect fit for the Covid-19 lockdown period. 

“Many companies have seen an increase in membership, but companies that box up the food for you are struggling with profit margins,” says Abrahams. “They have to buy the ingredients, prepare the meal, portion it, and deliver it to you in refrigerated vans. If you are a company in New York, you can’t deliver in San Diego.”

Abrahams knows that consumers like the concept and they are prepared to pay a premium for the service. This, she says, tends to make personalised nutrition accessible to the affluent customer.

Against a backdrop in which Covid-19 continues to keep closed large swathes of societies, personalised nutrition delivered through meal kits and collections is a trend that may well have a longer shelf life than the pandemic.

Next page: Gousto

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