Personalized nutrition could be the next plant-based meat, worth $64 billion by 2040, says UBS

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Nestle Health Lab

Imagine receiving customized nutrition advice based on your personal biologic or genetic profile. That’s the “future of food,” according to a UBS analyst, who sees diet personalization as the next plant-based meat.

Personalized nutrition could generate annual revenues as high as $64 billion by 2040, the firm said. Plus, big-name companies such as Apple, Uber and Amazon could benefit from the massive growth opportunity.

“With heightened health awareness among consumers, yet also more people suffering from ailments which are attributable to poor nutrition, there is growing demand for solutions that can improve individual nutritional choices,” said UBS analyst Charles Eden in a note to clients on Tuesday. “Personalised nutrition … represents a potential such solution.”

Personalization is a theme that has swept many industries in recent years. An increasing number of businesses are sending out questionnaires to customers to create profiles for their likes, dislikes and needs. Customized weight loss programs, clothing and shopping companies, makeup brands, vitamin providers, are just a few to have delved into an industry with massive growth potential, said Eden.

UBS’s theory is that food, medical diagnosis, technology and food delivery companies can all benefit from this industry. From services as simple as questionnaires, blood samples and genetic profiling, companies can capitalize on society’s shift in support to improved nutritional habits.

UBS said it sees four major industries capitalizing on this opportunity: Medical diagnosis firms to extract and interpret test results; Technology companies to develop wearable tech and integrated platforms for users to receive ongoing interactive feedback; Food producers to meet nutritional demand; And, food delivery companies to meet consumers’ increasing demand for convenience.

Illumina, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Apple, FitBit, Nestle, 23andMe, Ancestry.com, Unilever, Amazon Fresh and Uber Eats are some of the companies UBS mentioned as being in the game.

Corporate interest

The personalized nutrition opportunity has not been lost on current food company incumbents.

“Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, has identified personalised nutrition as a major growth opportunity and has made a number of investments in the space,” said Eden.

Nestle puts money into research from brain health, pediatrics, chronic medical conditions, obesity, malnutrition, and gastro-intestinal health.

Companies like Apple have bet big on personalized health, which could make the Tim Cook-led tech giant a potential pioneer in the personalized nutrition industry. Apple has identified the health care industry as an area of innovation, with its popular Apple Watch providing real-time personal health data to its wearers.

“The Apple Watch is already being used to study heart rates, perform ECGs, study eating disorders, track fitness and many other health metrics. Health data in Apple Watch could be combined with genetic information to offer personalized nutrition,” said Eden.

Even Amazon Fresh, the e-commerce giant’s grocery delivery service, and Uber Eats are well-positioned to win in this budding industry, said UBS.

“Delivery will allow for increased convenience and time savings in food preparation (e.g. partnering with Delivery Hero or Uber Eats to deliver the exact meal which has been freshly prepared to meet the needs of that individual consumer),” said Eden.

Road blocks

Eden said affordability is the most obvious constraint on the personalized nutrition scenario in the near term. Healthier foods can be more expensive than mass produced box items, and the personalization will also come with a cost.

Scientific evidence on the merits of personalizaiton are also lacking, UBS said.

Data privacy is a hurdle as well if consumers don’t want their medical, biological or genetic information shared with other parties.

— with reporting from CNBC’s Michael Bloom.