We are entering an entirely new dietary era. The global personalized nutrition market has seen unprecedented interest and growth in recent years. But how is the mass adoption of personalized nutrition changing people’s health and the food industry? In this interview, we speak to Clément Tischer - head of innovation and partnerships at NX-Food, on how he sees the future of personalized nutrition, innovative technologies, and different business models in the field of personalized nutrition, and how they will change the global food industry.
Clément, you are the head of innovation and partnerships at NX Food - can you tell us more about your background and what you do?
I have more than 7 year’s experience in the startup ecosystem – from a startup perspective as a co-founder and corporate perspective as a co-initiator of NX-Food. I focus on the implementation of innovation processes, sustainable new food concepts, and product innovations as well as initializing and executing corporate venturing activities. Before joining METRO, I was a partner at YOMARO GmbH, a system gastronomy startup, overseeing expansion and finance.
Together with EIT Food, Qina, Happ, Food Valley, and Nutrition Hub, NX Food recently published the white paper on Personalized Nutrition “Finding the Right Business Model to overcome the Valley of Death”. In our Nutrition Trend Report 2021, Personalized Nutrition is number #2 of the ten most important trends. What are your insights from the white paper? Why did you choose the title - valley of death?
Personalized Nutrition (PN) is one of the core trend topics in the food industry. Every expert in the field agrees that personalization, which is already well known in the area of food supplements and recommendations, will expand to (mass) nutrition beyond niche in the upcoming years. But despite the strong industry outlook, which signals the enormous potential for PN, not a single company seems to have a truly holistic approach to this specific market, where PN concepts encompass all the different steps of the complex value chain and go beyond supplements and recommendations. This suggests that PN concepts are currently stuck in the "Valley of Death", meaning that the market players haven't yet succeeded in developing a business model for personalized nutrition concepts that can sustainably generate revenue throughout the entire customer journey and reach a mass market.
How do you see personalized nutrition becoming mainstream in the future?
We believe the industry will either thrive or fail based on two key factors:
Regardless of the business model, a fully connected platform and nutritional profiling standard are needed to create a perfect value chain and make the personalized nutrition offering as convenient and trustworthy for the consumer as possible.
The emotional aspect of food must be maintained, as customers eat primarily to enjoy the sensations that food can evoke. Therefore, personalized nutrition concepts should be empathetic, transfer emotion and keep tech to a minimum.
In our white paper, we also suggest four high-level business model opportunities that can help move PN concepts from niche to mass market thus escaping the "Valley of Death":
Gastronomy as an ambassador and evangelist for PN
Subscription-based, personalized Meal Services.
Given your experience, in the last few years, what developments have been the most notable in terms of personalized nutrition? Can you highlight a couple of innovations in this area?
Recent developments in research have shown that the gut microbiome plays an important role in our metabolic health while at the same time it is highly influenced by lifestyle choices, medication, and the food itself. Humans share 99% of the same DNA, however, the human gut microbiome is hugely variable from person to person. On the contrary, even identical twins have very different gut microbiomes, with unrelated individuals sharing 30% and twins sharing 34% of the same gut microbes.
It used to be assumed that our genetic make-up dictated our reactions to food, but research has shown that only a small part of a person's reaction to different foods can be explained by genetics.
Science has found strong links between the microbes in our gut and our individual metabolic responses to food. There are clear hints that the gut microbiome changes with diet and consequently, the physiology and health of the individual also changes. The increasing knowledge of human genomes and gut microbiome and the relation to food is enabling the spread of personalized nutrition, which can be more effective than the one-size-fits-all approach of the past.
Therefore, more companies focus on the gut microbiome, such as the US-based startup Zoe. They take a novel approach to personalized nutrition, using Big Data and machine learning to gain predictive insights into how people will react to different foods. The company provides customers with a home testing kit that includes a stool sample collector to analyze the gut microbiome. Clients are advised on what and how to eat to improve gut health and reduce dietary inflammatory responses.
" Without credibility and consumers' trust, no business model could exist in the long term."
- Clément Tischer
For the white paper, you also worked with Mariette Abrahams who has become one of the science leaders to support startups and new business models in personalized nutrition. What do you observe in terms of scientific evidence and the role of nutrition experts in this field?
As we aren't nutrition experts at NX-Food, but rather specialized on the commercial side of the business, it was very important to us, to map out the scientific view of personalized nutrition concepts through external expertise. PN, as simple as the basic concept may sound, is founded on evidence-based science. Without credibility and consumers' trust, no business model could exist in the long term. Once trust is broken, it is difficult for the entire industry to rebuild it. Consumers tend to be pessimistic about PN concepts if they are not backed by science. Serious experts are therefore a basic building block for the development and dissemination of PN concepts. Science plays an important role not only in research, to generate more knowledge about nutrition, but also in the development of holistic personalized nutrition concepts. Therefore, it was very important to us that the scientific perspective is also represented in our white paper by experts like Mariette and also the Nutrition Hub team.
Nutrition experts play an important role here, in my view, especially in the development of sustainable and healthy food concepts. Conscious Consumption has reached a new peak, as consumers not only want to ensure that their food comes from ethical sources and that the harvesting and production processes produce less waste but also demand that their food is safe, nutritious, and affordable. This trend towards conscious and healthy consumption will increase even more in the future. Above all, nutrition experts are also called upon here to ensure the transparency and credibility of food and any innovation in this context
What is the real driver behind an increased need for personalized nutrition startups, products, and services?
Individualization and personalization are central drivers of modern business models across industries. We get used to personalization through online experiences like eCommerce, music and video streaming, etc. As stated in the white paper, one survey of retail, hospitality, travel, and insurance firms found that 77% of businesses that surpassed revenue goals had a personalization strategy in place, while 74% of them dedicated budget towards personalization. This indicates that personalized experiences add value for consumers, and they’re often willing to pay more for higher levels of personalization. Besides the economic aspects, malnutrition and obesity, as well as a growing number of food sensitivities, aren't only a massive problem in today’s societies, they also cause physical and psychological strain on Individuals, driving the need for PN concepts that can prevent, manage and treat metabolic disorders and optimize health.
Have you tried any of the personalized services or products?
I am a very good example of someone who is easily triggered to use personalization to optimize mental and physical health. So far, I have done a home testing kit by Lykon, including DNA testing and blood testing. The results gave me more clarity about my individual nutritional needs. But based on my knowledge about the gut microbiome I am keen on doing testing this soon, to understand even more precisely my bio-individual needs and responses to food.
"A food innovation that does not solve a real problem is not a sustainable innovation."
- Clément Tischer
What is your motivation behind looking for food innovations? When it comes to food innovations what aspects do you look for in a product?
First of all, I am always very curious and interested in novel food concepts and I have been lucky enough to spend my entire professional career in the context of food innovation. What particularly motivates me and the team at NX-Food, is that most food innovations arise from intrinsic motivation. Innovations usually respond to an existing problem, be it based on sustainable, ethical, or social aspects. A food innovation that does not solve a real problem is not a sustainable innovation. To our mind, first and foremost, innovations must improve the current state. If food is healthier, more sustainable, tastier - in short, better for you and the planet then it is a valid product that we at NX-Food are looking into.
What are the most common mistakes or problems that you foresee in food innovation startups and potential ways that could solve them?
Many startups, especially in Germany, tend to do more of the same. And oftentimes, they only focus on building consumer brands. There is no real Intellectual Property (IP) involved. Thus entry barriers for competitors are pretty low. If you look at big startup companies from the US like Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, Just, Perfect Day, there is strong IP, often developed with the help of scientific experts. This IP gives them an unfair advantage which results in big amounts of VC capital being deployed in their companies. This money is then being used to scale up fast and build global brands. My advice would be, to do less of the same and strive for real IP-driven innovation. Food entrepreneurs should be bold enough to dream big - even when catering to niches.
"Nutrition experts play an important role, especially in the development of sustainable and healthy food concepts."
- Clément Tischer
And last question: Where do you see the food industry by 2030?
I think we are just at the beginning of the New Food Revolution. Through an increasing convergence of technologies, we will see more and more innovative, sustainable, and groundbreaking concepts in the next 5-10 years. In particular, we will see immense progress around the so-called Internet of Food, i.e. a closer data-based interlinking of the entire value chain.
The Internet of Things (IoT) has revolutionary potential. An intelligent network of sensors, cameras, robots, drones, and other connected devices will enable unprecedented levels of control and automated decision-making. But to achieve this revolution, food data must not be locked away in silos of a few big multinationals, but rather made available to new players to help us all make better food choices for ourselves and our planet. We need more data on food so that we can make better decisions about how food is produced, processed, stored, distributed, and consumed. We also need to ensure that food data can be linked to our personal data so that we can make personalized and conscious decisions about what we eat and how it affects our health and wellbeing.
If you’d like to find out more about Clément or his work, you can connect and network with him via LinkedIn and you can find out more about the Personalized Nutrition Whitepaper: Finding the Right Business Model to overcome the Valley of Death here. This interview was carried out by Bhargavi Arvind, Science Editor at Nutrition Hub.