personalized shopping experience

Getting Personal with Food

In Blog by Judy Seybold MS, RD, LD

Personalization is a key trend in America today and the food sector has not been spared. The movement includes using consumers’ personal information to develop individualized diet plans, products, and services. This trend is fed by a number of consumer shifts that have created the need (in some cases) or desire (in others) for personalized food choices. 

Six in ten American adults say they restrict at least one nutritional component from their diet, creating the need for personalized plans. (Food Manufacturing, 6/10/2014).  There are three types of consumers driving the 60% of Americans needing special diets:

  1. Required: Consumers who must follow a specific diet on doctor’s orders, such as a nut-free or low sodium diet
  2. Lifestyle: Consumers choosing to follow a specific type of diet such as Paleo, Ketogenic or Vegetarian for personal health reasons
  3. Self-selected: Consumers who make food choices based on ethical, environmental or cultural factors.

Dissection of the consumer segments indicate that, of the 30% of the population that require a special diet, 15% have an allergy-related condition and another 15% have another medical condition, such as high blood pressure.  Food allergy special diets are expected to continue to grow, as childhood allergies jumped 50% between 1997 and 2011. (Supermarket News, “Retailers Assist Shoppers with Food Allergies,” 2/24/17). Other medically required diets stem from the rise in obesity. Managing obesity and related conditions such as diabetes drives a host of needs such as low calorie, low sodium and low-fat options. If trends continue, it is projected that 50% of today’s children will be obese by age 35. Both allergy and obesity trends will continue to feed the need for personalized food choices and specialized selections in the future. (Reuters, “Forecast Predicts Over Half of Kids will be Obese by 35,” 11/25/17)

The other 70% of the population not requiring but desiring special diet choices are self-selected individuals. The rise in specific diets, such as Paleo or plant-based has been meteoric in the past decade. This past year lifestyle claims, such as organic or sustainable have grown seven-fold since 2010 (Forbes, “Top 10 Food Trends for 2018,” 12/17/17).

These individual consumer needs drive the need for a retail solution, both in-store and online, that allows consumers to find their tailored selection. 

How is personalization being addressed today?

A large contributor to the growth of personalization is technological advancement. This includes the proliferation of product and consumer data as well as applications that precipitate efficient and effective use of the data. Without these changes, implementation of a personalization strategy might not be possible.

Several solutions have been developed and implemented over the past decade to address consumer personalization. Attribution programs have evolved from in-store shelf edge tags to more sophisticated online systems where consumers input personal profiles and generate shopping lists for specific needs, such as vegan or lactose free.  The sheer number of search factors, such as health claims, has proliferated as well.  According to Innova, “better-for-you” claims now appear on almost half of all products globally. More specifically, Innova has tracked a 36% increase in global product launches with brain-health claims over the past five years, especially in sports nutrition and cereals. (Healthy Bytes, “Food Trends: A Focus on Brain Health 2018,” 12/20/17).  Other top claims include those addressing negatives, such as low sugar, with 33% of shoppers interested in buying products that meet this criterion, and low sodium, with 32% of shoppers interested. “No artificial ingredients” is also highly sought, with 30% of shoppers expressing interest. On the positive side, lifestyle claims also show growth with 44% of shoppers expressing interest in Fair Trade products and 43% interested in Certified Humane claims on products. (FMI Global Survey 2017). There are literally thousands of claims searchable now online and shoppers can drill to a very granular level to find the products that best suit their individual needs.

Smartphone apps that marry claims data with personal profiles and more are also facilitating personalization. Shoppers are using their phones to search for items both in and out of the store. According to Google, for five of the top ten trending functional foods, over 50% of the searches are on mobile.

Additionally, according to a recent study of people who searched for food and beverage terms, 35% did so exclusively on a phone. (“2016 Food Trends from Google Search Data: The Rise of Functional Foods,” April 2016). This makes the need for location data, in addition to shopper, purchase, and nutrition data, essential to retailers developing personalization plans.  Online shopping continues to expand. Amazon has paved the way in personalization, with Instacart & Unata’s platforms following suit specifically for the grocery industry. Each leverage personal customer data to send personalized deals and product recommendations to shoppers. And the results are effective. Reports indicate that 1 in 3 shoppers switch online vendors because personalized offers were made. (Forbes, “Top 10 Food Trends for 2018,” 12/17/17).

Scrubbed, clean data about customers, purchases, and nutrition support all of this. Without better data to scour for pockets of personalization on an individual basis, none of the applications or individual product searches would be possible.

Where is the trend going?

Personalization will only escalate from here, with enhanced technology and data prevalence. The future may hold solutions using DNA testing and bio-availability indicators at the individual level. Habit, Fitnessgenes and other companies are already on the bandwagon, using DNA data to develop personalized meals and diet plans. Shortly we will see grocery pharmacies offering DNA tests not only for personalized medicine, but also for the creation of shopping lists, recipes, and recommended products. Product development may even become more personalized. Today, shoppers can select their own beef or fish and learn about the source, but imagine creating your own nutrition bar, mixed with the functional ingredients that are key for you, based on DNA tests. Or heading to the fresh prepared counter to pick up your prepared meals for the week—meals made with your biomarker indicators as guidelines.

Privacy concerns might dissuade some consumers from divulging enough personal information to take advantage of personalized food science. Others, however, are perfectly comfortable with the entry of a constantly listening AI assistant like Alexa into their lives. That rapidly-growing consumer segment is likely to decide that “if we can quell the storms of disease, obesity, and allergies and give ourselves a little leg up on longevity, why not?” Is your data ready for this level of personalization?  Let ItemMaster future proof your products.