The Impact of the Digital Age: How Technology is Enabling Nutritional Wellbeing
12 May 2021
Since the birth of the internet in the 1980s, there has been an explosion of digital technology and rapid uptake of online activities. For many of us during COVID-19, the internet and technology are one of our four main connections with each other, and with information. Combine this with the growing health and wellness trend, the virtual landscape has become even more important in enabling this category with both consumers and F&B businesses.
The adoption of technology is helping to educate and empower consumers in taking greater control of their health.
María Mascaraque | Industry Manager, Food and Nutrition, Euromonitor International
Our ever-increasing digital exposure provides access to personalised solutions such as tracking apps and online programmes that inform our diets. Technology is also increasing consumer education and awareness of the importance of health, and what a healthy diet and lifestyle consists of, which is prompting more proactive and preventative choices.
In the food industry, innovation continues in the form of apps, blogs, social media and online services to enable consumers to be more informed about their diets and goals. For example, combating food intolerances, gaining muscle, weight management, eating more plant-based or improving digestive wellness to name a few.
We've seen an increased consumer demand for microbiome and DNA testing, with the aim of achieving more tailored and customised nutrition plans.
Consumers are also showing more interest in personalised food products, such as snack bars, drinking milk products and meal solutions that can be tailored by choosing specific healthy ingredients (e.g. superfoods, probiotics, nuts, and seeds) that offer specific functionalities.
E-commerce adoption accelerates rapidly in the food industry
Internet retailing has enabled consumers to access packaged food from the safety and convenience of their homes amid the pandemic, resulting in an unprecedented rise in this channel.
In 2020 online food sales saw growth of 50% to reach a global share of 4% of the total retail landscape in the food industry (4).
In Asian countries such as China and South Korea, the online grocery channel is among the most developed in the world, while in Western Europe and North America, it accelerated rapidly in 2020.
The rise in e-commerce has benefited manufacturers looking to pursue a much more targeted strategy around health and wellbeing products and experiences. One example is the boom in demand for healthy recipe boxes and prepared meals, which has led to significant growth for businesses such as Mindful Chef (UK) and Freshly (US). Consequently, both were acquired by Nestlé at the end of 2020. This movement also shows the intrest in the digital wellness segment among large businesses in the F&B industry.
Nutrition businesses are growing their online presence
In line with growing consumer demand for tech-driven solutions, food manufacturers and retailers are moving fast to increase their online capabilities.
In light of this, direct to consumer (DTC) models have been embraced by many food manufacturers to deal with the new online opportunities. Partnerships with third party delivery businesses also flourished during 2020. With consumers' desire for more health and wellness offerings, food manufacturers should focus on increasing the online visibiliy of attributes and ingredients that are in high demand by consumers, such as organic and immunity-related ingredients.
Social media is now more important than ever. Engaging with consumers with healthy recipes through this channel has been a key tool used by many food players to promote their flagship brands. Examples include Quaker's vegan apple crumble made with baked oats, in the UK, and Oiko's yoghurt-based cake with almonds, in Canada.
Investment is also expected in digital apps that can provide nutritional information, personalised nutrition recommendations and customisable functional food products to be delivered to consumers' doorsteps.
Ordering healthy and personalised packaged snacks online
Although personalised nutrition in the food industry is in high demand, there is still a long way to go to get more tailored packaged food products that align with the tastes and health needs of each individual. Digital apps and online services that deliver more personalised diets and food products are set to gain ground in coming years.
An example is London-based start-up Erbology, who have introduced a new concept to deliver personalised health-focused snacks to consumers' homes. This aligns with the high demand for this type of offering in the UK.
Of UK consumers feel extremely/very comfortable using online and app-based services for personalised nutrition (1).
To begin ordering Erbology, consumers need to complete a survey online so their preferences and tastes can be identified. In the process, a list of ingredients are displayed to choose from.
This includes ingredients selected by Erbology, including milk thistle, activated seeds and Jerusalem artichokes that can be added to the selected products. Users can customise a range of snacks from crackers, to energy balls, granola and more. Food intolerances and dietary requirements are also identified in the survey, adding an important wellbeing element.
Case Study: AeBeZe Labs introduces the concept of "digital diets"
AeBeZe Labs has pioneered the concept of "certified digital nutrition". AeBeZe's concepts are not related to traditional nutrition intake, instead their app-based tools claim to help release neurotransmitters, hormones and chemical compounds produced by the body (e.g. dopamine, endorphins, testosterone) that they deem essential to "nourish" the soul, improve emotional resilience and elevate mood, which they promote as ultimatetly maximising wellbeing.
This is achieved by "feeding" positive digital content, videos, songs or training regimes that aim to transport the user to a virtual world and enhanced mood. The idea behind it is that positive digital content can help boost or decrease certain chemical componenets in the body in the same way that food does; for instance, eating chocolate releases endorphins, dopamine and serotonin, all responsible for feelings of happiness, in the same way that positive digital content can do.
According to Euromonitor's Health and Nutrition Survey, 64% of global consumers consider mental wellbeing as the most important factor for being healthy. So, technology companies like AeBeZe's efforts to meet this need in new and out-of-the-box ways shows the direction this industry is being pushed.
As consumers spend more time online, digital solutions that can help improve mood states by creating balanced "digital diets" are attempting to break new ground for the future of health and wellness.
So - What Next?
Aside from an inevitable boost in e-commerce and the proliferation of selling channels, utilising digital technologies and tools is facilitating many wellness-related micro trends, such as personalisation, supply chain transparency and emotional wellbeing.
In the nutrition world, one size doesn't fit all, and the evolution of digital services will result in personalised nutrition becoming mainstream. This includes packaged foods tailored to consumers' health needs, helping minimise nutritional gaps.
The proliferation of wellness data collection enabled through digital technologies will continue to enhance self-care solutions, not just within the scope of physical wellbeing, but increasingly in the realm of emotional health too.
Industry Manager | Food and Nutrition, Euromonitor International
María Mascaraque is an industry expert in food and nutrition, contributing to the content and quality of Euromonitor International's global food industry research. María focuses on developing thought leadership by providing global expertise and forward-thinking insights, identifying key market trends and the latest product developments in the food industry. María is a regular speaker at leading conferences and events. She holds a PhD in Nutrition from Complutense University, Spain.
This article is based on insights and data provided by María and Euromonitor, the world's leading independent provider of strategic market research. Unless otherwise referenced, this content is derived from María's analysis and Euromonitor's report; "Wellness Redefined: Fostering Wellbeing Through Digitalisation and Technology"
The views expressed above are general opinions only, and Fonterra is not responsible for any decisions taken in reliance on the same.
-  Euromonitor International Health and Nutrition Survey 2020 (fielded in February 2020) n= 21,741
-  Euromonitor International Lifestyles Survey 2020 (fielded in January to February 2020) n= 35,604
-  Euromonitor International Voice of the Industry: COVID-19 Survey 2020 (fielded in October 2020) n= 4,549
-  Euromonitor Database