Rethinking how we approach health via nutrition
Each day in my newsfeed, I come across novel foods and nutritional supplements touting therapeutic benefits creatively promoted to circumvent regulation on specific health claims. The recent boom of personalized nutrition via dietary interventions using health status, level of activity, social interaction, and even genomics is shifting the manner how we used to think about nutrition. Based on my most recent observations, five main trends are expected to influence nutritional approaches.
1. The market of nutritional supplements is becoming saturated
Highly competitive pressures in the marketplace of vitamins, minerals and supplements – particularly in the United States – are pushing many players to think out of the box on how to market and sell their products, an approach especially followed by smaller and niche firms.
A rising consumer demand preoccupied with wellness and prevention has produced an explosive growth in the sales of nutritional supplements in most retail channels, including brick-and-mortar, e-commerce, and multilevel selling in the past ten years. This trend has caused many more brands to become available for purchase. I did a quick search in Amazon US for calcium supplements and returned about 14,500 results!
Granted, the results may include same products sold by different vendors, yet the list is still overwhelming. And this is just one channel. So the question is how can a consumer choose amongst the thousands of options and brands available to them?
2. Personalized nutrition will continue to grow
This leads to the second trend. As personalization takes a stronger hold in the mind of consumers – and of course the media – the confusion on what brand or nutritional supplement to choose may be narrowed to what’s promised to be a “personalized” product for the consumer.
In the new consumerism of health, more adults seem to be interested in purchasing an experiential product that relates or talks specifically to them. This development has helped start-ups and smaller firms tap into the personalization of nutrition represented either by a unique dietary supplement mostly promoted in social media, or by a convenient and specifically tailored formulation based on gender, age, health status, lifestyle, and genomics of the individual.
Consequently, the retail trend is now being threatened by the rise of personalization and the increasing influence of sales via the healthcare practitioner’s channel, which seems more likely to adopt the personalized proposition for their patients.
3. The long-awaited validation by the medical community
The ongoing issues in the media dealing with the validation of health benefits of nutritional supplementation promoted in the retail setting are forcing firms to search for new channels of growth.
For decades, supplements have been largely favored by the recommendations of naturopaths, chiropractors, and alternative medicine practitioners. A disconnect between allopathic and natural medicine was strong in the past, but now with the emergence of integrative, concierge and anti-aging medicine, the market rules are changing.
Moreover, the newest generations of graduates from medical schools are young adults not only embracing the concepts of wellness and prevention, but being digitally connected as well. Thus, the merging of personalization, digital health, and a broader medical awareness on the health benefits of supplementation and natural wellness is giving room to a new form of market expansion.
This may represent a win-win situation for manufacturers who will get the endorsement from the medical community; for healthcare practitioners, who will maintain a steady flow of patients for regular wellness checkups adopting digital tracking and monitoring technologies; and most importantly, for consumers who will truly get their personalized nutritional and wellness program.
4. Innovation based upon nature
An extensive influx of venture capital and investments from some of the largest pharmaceutical and consumer goods companies are helping biotech and start-ups spear ahead in the discovery, research, development, and marketing of innovative formulations based on natural ingredients claiming to have a therapeutic effect ranging from anti-inflammatory virtues to healing and rejuvenation.
This development could be summarized as finding the next blockbuster “natural medicine” in the form of a functional food or nutritional supplement. (This trend is not to be confused with botanical extracts or homeopathic drugs.) Interestingly, these so-called natural and medicinal therapies are coming in a wider array of forms, but notably it is capsules and powders that take the lead.
The correct calibration of dried and milled fruits, vegetables with nuts, protein, spices, minerals and other natural ingredients is being sold as formulations with potential unique health benefits. Many of these nutritional powders are being added to regular foods and beverages that make it very convenient for consumers to boost their health.
My attendance to Natural Products Expo West on March 9-12, 2017, left me with a big impression on how many of these dietary supplements, botanical medicines, and functional foods and beverages are aiming to disrupt how we approach food as preventive medicine and maintenance support for some chronic diseases.
5. Food and supplements as lifestyle medicine
The new ways of nutritional supplementation has led big companies to rethink their go-to-market strategy.
Campbell Soup & Co invested in Habit, a revolutionary health and well-being food personalized program using a shake to reset the body, followed by a dietary program based on an individualized plan using blood tests, digital monitoring, tracking and genetic testing.
Alternatively, new ventures such as Virta Health and Livongo sell programs aiming to help reverse chronic diseases such as diabetes by merging digital health with dietary interventions in a timely and enforceable manner. Moreover, the TrueHealth Initiative is a relatively new global initiative promoting lifestyle as medicine. These developments peek into what lies ahead in the future of preventive medicine via healthy diets and lifestyle.
In conclusion, the consumer health trends highlighted above provide a beautiful picture of possibilities where many forces will join to recreate, shape and enhance the new concept of nutrition as medicine.