Personalised nutrition: How the hospitality industry can benefit

The days when individualised, health-based nutrition was a niche trend are long gone. What kind of potential does this offer the hospitality industry in terms marketing and execution?

Personalised nutrition in restaurants

Everybody is different – and as obvious as this may sound at first, it could be a really valuable insight. Because our diversity as individuals is also reflected in the way our bodies react to food. Anyone who has ever had to manage an intolerance or even an illness by changing their diet knows what foods and the ingredients they contain can do. That’s where personalised nutrition (PN) comes in. PN incorporates factors such as height, weight and individual metabolism, as well as biomarkers from blood, saliva or urine and gut bacteria. Other data points include personal circumstances and behaviours, even ethnic and cultural background. The result is an individual profile that enables consumers to make evidence-based nutritional decisions – in other words to eat consciously and thereby have a positive impact on their health and quality of life.

So far, so good. But what does this mean for the hospitality industry? Restaurant owners can list ingredients and additives on their menus and can offer vegan or gluten-free options or different menus to choose from. But it would be very difficult for a commercial business to take every individual’s food sensitivity into account. And the analysis of gut bacteria or saliva samples, not to mention DNA, will hardly be of relevance to the restaurant, hotel and catering sector. Or will it?

Too individualised for the hospitality industry?

‘The concept stands or falls by the right business model,’ says Clément Tischer, Head of Innovation & Partnerships at NX-Food. The METRO innovation hub focuses on the future of food, carrying out research, supporting start-ups and working with partners on this issue. ‘Personalisation has been a major trend across a variety of sectors for years,’ says Tischer. ‘But the hospitality industry has a particular challenge, namely its difficult commercial focus.’ Compared to products such as personalised sneakers with customised lettering or personalised nutrition in the B2C sector, such as the sale of diet supplements to end consumers, the hospitality industry faces several obstacles. Firstly, restaurateurs generally have far fewer resources and opportunities at their disposal than manufacturers, and analysing all ingredients is an extremely expensive and time-consuming process for them. Secondly, personalisation means less flexibility for restaurateurs themselves, as meals always need to be made exactly as described on the menu. All in all, this raises the question – not only for the hospitality industry – of how to generate profit from PN. Are customers willing to pay a higher price for it?

NX-Food believes PN is currently in the Death Valley curve. This is a term borrowed from start-up business jargon that describes the phase in a young company’s life cycle where it has received funding and is operating, but is not yet generating revenues. In other words, the Death Valley curve is a critical period where the products or services have to prove that they are viable and ultimately profitable. ‘On the one hand, personalised nutrition offers huge potential for the HoReCa sector, as health consciousness and individuality are growing trends for which people are generally willing to pay a premium,’ says Tischer. But PN is still more of a peripheral issue in the hospitality industry, largely because there are few economically viable concepts currently in operation.

Clement Tischer
Clément Tischer, Head of Innovation & Partnerships at NX-Food.

Data is essential – but data costs money

‘Recommendations and recipes are already available, but consumers are left to do the work themselves,’ says Tischer. Another problem is that highly personalised data is required in order to actually have a positive effect on health. There doesn’t even have to be a lot of data – a simple questionnaire may be enough to begin with. But then someone has to analyse and apply it. This not only requires resources, but also raises data protection issues. And even if these issues can be resolved, collecting data remains an expensive business. The costs are then reflected in the prices that customers would generally be willing to pay, but only if they are transparent and understandable, says Tischer. ‘For consumers, products and information should ideally be clear and simple. But that is a particular challenge for business models that rely on a high level of input from consumers.’

In its white paper titled ‘Personalized Nutrition: Finding the right Business Model to overcome the Valley of Death’, NX-Food addresses these very questions: Does the concept of personalised nutrition have the potential to emerge as a market trend? What opportunities and challenges does this create for the hospitality and food industry? There are plenty of ideas about how to translate such a trend into business practice. One example in the eGrocery sector is when online shops offer a filter function based on personalised nutrition criteria. Another example is the emergence of fully or partially customisable meals in so-called fast casual restaurants, a term coined to describe fast-food restaurants with fresh products and limited service. Subscription-based meal and ingredient delivery services that deliver food for specific meals to the homes of customers on the basis of their individual nutritional information, could also play a role.

‘Personalised nutrition is extremely complex because the value chain is so complex.’ says food trend expert Tischer. ‘PN requires a number of steps and processes in order to be successful, and each step must be part of a fully integrated system. This complexity makes it hard for a single industry player to execute all the steps and processes in the value chain in a way that is profitable.’ Whether the trend will ultimately become part of everyday life in the food service industry is too early to say. Either way, the whitepaper and its fascinating facts, tips and forecasts is available here:

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