From generalised to personalised – the future of food is all about ‘me’

Posted by Contributed opinion piece by Sharon Natoli on 5th March 2018

When it comes to encouraging people to follow population based dietary guidelines two things are clear. First is the general vagueness about what they are, and second is that even if they were clear, there is a common feeling that general dietary guidelines don’t apply to them – ‘they’re for the average person and I’m not average’ is many people’s reaction.

This means that if broad based dietary guidelines are for the average healthy person, and no-one really thinks they’re ‘average’, the perception is they lack relevance. This presents a major problem with getting cut through to encourage people to actually follow them and is a key reason behind the fact that few people do (97 per cent of the population for example, don’t eat the recommended number of serves of fruit and veg).

However following broad based dietary guidelines may not be a problem we need to worry about in the future.

A trilogy of influences are facilitating a power shift from institutions to individuals that will see rising numbers of people seeking out personalised eating advice. This in turn will create major change in the way we tailor messages about healthy eating in the future and provides both opportunities and implications for food marketers and innovators.

Here are three of the key emerging technologies already available and which will continue to grow in uptake and influence:

1. Genetic testing.

The cost of whole genome testing has plummeted from $100 million in the year 2000 to  $1,000 in 2018. Within 5 years it will be available for $150 and you’ll probably take your genetic map home with you after birth. In the meantime, you can now order a genetic test that will identify whether you carry certain genes known to influence how the body responds to various nutrients in food, and find out if you have a higher risk of certain diseases or risk factors, for as little as $99.  Dietary recommendations can be tailored to these profiles to maximise health and wellbeing while reducing risk of future disease.  These results will have a significantly greater influence on the motivation to buy particular foods than general population based healthy eating messages and will impact the nature of our shopping list

2. Microbiome mapping. 

Research on the influence of gut bacteria on health has exploded in recent years. As a result, for about $350 and a stool sample, a testing company can now map your microbiome giving you a picture of the types and amounts of bacteria that live in your gut and the influence they may be having on your health.  With this profile in hand, tailored dietary recommendations aimed at bringing your gut bacteria back into balance can be provided. Advancements in this area will drive opportunities for companies with probiotic and prebiotic products and those marketing foods that provide particular types of fibres and starches.

3. Food on demand. 

Our ability to make and access food on demand is growing and it’s not just about UberEATS. The future may see 3D food printers sitting on kitchen benches, enabling meals to be made to a specific recipe that incorporates the good stuff you need while leaving out the bad stuff you don’t.  3D printing lends itself to aged care settings but is also currently a source of ‘food-utainment’. The world’s first fully 3D printed restaurant, Food Ink, opened in London in August 2016, complete with 3D printed chairs, plates and utensils and claiming to ‘provide the world’s most futuristic gourmet experience in the known universe’.  Complimentary to this will be growth in urban gardens and vertical farms that will enable community input and access to the type and amount of produce available at specific times of year.

Many food businesses are already well invested in the personalised eating space. Barilla has long invested in the development of a 3D pasta printer while Campbell Soup in the US invested $32 million in Habit, a nutrition-tech start up launched in January last year that develops personalised eating plans based on a series of tests which analyse a persons genetic, metabolic and blood markers.  The investment is a long term bet for Campbell’s with future potential lying in the possibility that customized meals can be developed and delivered as an easy solution for the individual. With the emergence of new technologies coinciding with parallel growth in the desire to take control of our own health, the days of applying broad based messages about healthy eating may well be numbered.  The role that science plays in people’s food choices will increase as an influencer of purchasing decisions and food marketers will benefit from working together with the appropriate scientists to remain relevant in this area.

Additional considerations for food marketers and innovators arising from these emerging technologies include:

  • Maintain awareness of the implications of personalised nutrition as a future influencer of marketing messages linked to particular products, and opportunities for innovation in this space.
  • Consider the creation of new networks of collaborators and advisors including experts in technology. Genetics, gastroenterology, medical and fitness technologies to name a few.
  • Gain greater awareness and understanding of the role of food in health and disease prevention and how this can support your marketing and innovation efforts.

The future is likely to see a need for those in the business of food to be well informed about its role in personal health.  Doing this may require the creation of new connections to ensure you have access to the necessary skills and knowledge that will ensure you are well prepared as the future unfolds.


Sharon Natoli works with food businesses to build awareness of future food and nutrition trends, provides an understanding of how these can be applied to business strategy and works with teams to develop their food values and nutrition commitments.

Contact: Ph: 02 9262 1211


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