How the personalised nutrition revolution

May 9, 2019

How the personalised nutrition revolution will reshape food packaging and labeling

As consumers’ health journeys become more individualised, The Future Laboratory explores how brands are tailoring nutrition, and what its effect might be on products as they appear on the shelves.

There are few consumer products more personal than what you eat. And yet for years, nutritional and dietary information has been built for the masses, with tools like the Food Pyramid and the Healthy Eating Plate acting as guides for how everyone should eat. ‘Different people have different needs and goals [when it comes to nutrition]…but existing tools and datasets are still one-size-fits-all and treat us  all as if we’re the same person,’ says Sam Slover, founder of the nutrition platform Pinto.

Scientists are just beginning to understand the intricacies of nutrition and how it affects people uniquely. In June 2019, researchers at King’s College London and Massachusetts General Hospital announced results of Predict 1, a large nutritional study on how individuals’ blood marker levels respond to food. Even identical twins were found to have different reactions. Despite other similar genetic markers, twins shared just 37% of their gut microbes, only slightly higher than the 35% shared between two unrelated people. The findings suggest that our reaction to what we eat is down not only to a person’s genetics, but our environment, gut health, hours of sleep and other biological and environmental factors. The study sheds light on ‘why some people will lose weight on one diet, while others won’t,’ explained Professor Tim Spector, lead author to The Times. It also hints at a future where food will no longer be mass-produced, but individualized to personal health goals. And as scientists continue to research foods’ effects on the individual, startups and big brands alike are already forging ahead on how we might be able to make personalised nutrition a scalable reality. 

Spector and his team of researchers recently founded a nutritional science startup Zoe which, alongside continuing the Predict study, is planning to launch its own app and at-home kit. Users will be able to test their glucose levels in order to choose foods that are optimal for their metabolism. Habit DNA is another startup that has made headlines recently with its meal kits designed around a person’s DNA markers and blood test results. For Maartje van den Berg, senior analyst at agribusiness market research firm RaboResearch, both these ventures offer a path to personalisation. ‘To have true personalised nutrition, there has to be some form of physical measurements such as DNA, gut bacteria or blood,’ she explains. But while measurement is one side of the personalised nutrition puzzle, the other is food data. ‘A personalised diet doesn’t necessarily need personalised products. You could assemble a tailored diet from products available at the supermarket, but you need that information about ingredients first,’ she adds.

We are now in an era where more and more consumers are going on specific diets – in the US alone, Americans on specific diets went from 14% in 2017 to 36% in 2018 (source: Fortune). In their journey for personalised nutrition, they are also seeking out better information, with ‘over half of consumers look at the nutrition facts panel or ingredient list often or always when making a purchasing decision’ according to the IFIC Foundation. In a survey of 3,000 American, British and German shoppers, ingredients supplier Beneo found that more consumers believed that the ingredients list was the most important attribute in motivating a purchase, over branding and product description. But despite this interest in nutrition, current labelling may not offer enough information to cater to specialised eating habits. Several companies are addressing this problem by combining databases and connected technology to go beyond the label and help consumers discern whether food fits their chosen diet. 

Starting off as a graduate project and now a fully-fledged business, Pinto is one such platform. Consisting of a website and app, users can set up their own nutritional goals – such as reducing salt intake or specify a diet like Ketogenic, – and when they scan an item’s barcode, Pinto will flag the nutritional information that matters most to achieving those goals. ‘We’ve always thought that a dream food label would work a bit differently,’ says Slover. ‘Rather than show everyone the same information, it would adapt to the needs and goals of each individual end user.’ Since Pinto’s database covers 85% of food in American grocery stores, thanks to its partnerships, a user could have a complex diet, where they are both lactose-intolerant, iron-deficient and low-FODMAP and Pinto will be able to navigate the dietary data to find the right food for them. 

Similarly, grocery retailers are aiming to find ways to allow for mass personalisation of the food already on its shelves through apps. In the US, supermarket Kroger launched its OptUp app, which provides personalized product recommendations, scans and searches items to find nutrition facts and product alternatives. In the UK, Waitrose recently collaborated with Imperial College London and startup DNANudge on a trial of 200 pre-diabetic shoppers to see whether their food shopping was compatible with their DNA profile. Shoppers’ received a ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ on food they scanned based on how they match their genetic disposition. Similarly, Tesco works with Spoon Guru, an AI-powered app that was originally founded to flag allergens in food, but is now entering the tailored nutrition market.

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"Connected labels makes it easier to shop for specific diets, on the route to mass-tailored nutrition, we will also see a shift in how products are produced and packaged."

And while at-home blood sampling offers the most bespoke form of personalisation, and connected labels makes it easier to shop for specific diets, on the route to mass-tailored nutrition, we will also see a shift in how products are produced and packaged. Big corporations like Pepsi and Nestle are investing heavily in mass personalisation, investing in products that deliver different nutrients through modular packaging. Pepsi’s Drinkfinity is its next generation water bottle that allows users to infuse their water with whatever flavour they choose that day. The bottle has an insert for a flavor pod at the top which, when clamped down on, infuses the water with wet and dry ingredients. Currently on sale are products geared towards general health, such as an Oatberry & Fibre pod or an electrolytes pod, but one can imagine how this modular packaging could be used to deliver more specific nutrients in the future. 

Nestle is already attempting to tackle this with their experimental wellness ambassador program in Japan. Around 100,000 users send pictures of their food to Nestle, as well as supply their blood and DNA through a home kit. In return they receive specially formulated supplements, including nutrient-rich teas and pre-packaged smoothies, to address any deficiencies. Similarly, American startup Mixfit has created MINA Mixfit Intelligent Nutrition Assistant), a countertop device that comes with pods of 22 essential nutrients. Users inform MINA’s app of their daily habits, and link it up to any wearables that track sleep and movement so that the device can determine what nutrients might be needed in a morning smoothie.

Personalised nutrition is far from a solved puzzle, but each piece is slowly being put together by scientists, startups and large corporations. From gathering at-home data, to a new generation of smart labels, to creating packaging that may suit more mass tailored nutrition, it is clear that the future of food is personal.

Personalised nutrition is far from a solved puzzle, but each piece is slowly being put together by scientists, startups and large corporations. From gathering at-home data, to a new generation of smart labels, to creating packaging that may suit more mass tailored nutrition, it is clear that the future of food is personal. ‘There is now an ecosystem of companies and business models around food offering people a way to integrate healthier food into their lives,’ says van Der Berg. ‘There is big business to be had.’

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Avery Dennison Notes


  • Avery Dennison’s connected product cloud enables a 1:1 conversation between the brand and consumer through the product itself. Combining ingredient information stored within the intelligent label on the product and personalised information about the consumer, brands can tailor their communication and guidance to suit each individual. 
  • Intelligent labels such as NFC technology provides the link between the physical and digital world, allowing consumers to use their smartphones to access additional information regarding the product that is not shown on the physical label.
  • Stand out shelf appeal, and personalised design, also plays a key role in attracting consumers to a brand, which has led to the growth of digital print technology that enables short run productions and one off label designs. Avery Dennison has a large portfolio of label materials that are suitable for digital printing and are evaluated and recommended by many major OEMS, across multiple segments. 

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