Amidst the backdrop of the climate crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, consumers are increasingly seeking bespoke products, tailored to their specific nutritional and health needs, underpinned by ‘planet first’ principles.
Ireland is in the right place to capitalise on this opportunity, being a global leader in the production of safe and nutritious food and in building a talent pipeline of graduates with sector-focused expertise. Going beyond the familiar concepts of infant formula or foods for special medical purposes, the specialised nutrition category offers new routes to market, consumer groups and prospects for innovation, when supported by credible scientific evidence.
I’ve outlined three intertwined trends in specialised nutrition:
1. The Role of Metabolic Testing
In the future, we’ll see the convergence of traditional analytical lab methods, bioinformatics and at home testing to give consumers deeper insights and a more proactive approach to their health. At the forefront, are Irish company Food Marble, which use sensors in their patented device to measure exhaled gases, shining a light on foods which trigger conditions like IBS. To date, they have raised €8.7M. In the UK, ZOE provides personalised nutrition advice and feedback based on the individual’s response to sugar and fat levels in food. ZOE have currently 250,000 consumers on a waiting list to join their programme and since 2018 have raised €79.5M in investment.
2. Gut Microbiome Health
Humans have been consuming foods which benefit the gut for millennia, but the past decade has seen a revolution in our understanding in gut health and its wider influence. There are often significant differences in gut microbial diversity between health and sick individuals across a range of conditions. Put simply, “you are what you eat” still stands, but it’s also “you are what your microbes eat”. Food for Health Ireland and the APC Microbiome Ireland are generating new clinical insights and working with industry to develop novel solutions. The APC recently announced a large study with Arla Food Ingredients and the Health and Happiness group to examine if dietary changes can lower the impact of early life stress on brain development.
3. Functional Nutrition
Personalised nutrition (targeted individual nutritional advice based on genetic, environmental and health considerations) is unlikely to be commercially scalable. In the short to near term, but there are opportunities for companies to develop new products and services for specific populations and their needs. As one example, between 2-10% of western populations suffer from a food allergy, with the number of people identifying as being intolerant higher again. Whilst food regulators are putting food allergen pack info under increased scrutiny, the ‘free from’ category offers companies to tap into trends and claims such as “FODMAP” free and to develop nutritional products to support consumers on restrictive diets.
Crunchbase: Discover innovative companies and the people behind them
APC News | University College Cork (ucc.ie)
Food Allergy | World Allergy Organisation
Allergies and intolerances: free from dieting trends - Mintel
This article was first published in our 2023 Food & Agribusiness Report.