There have been defining moments in human history that have transformed our way of life. Whether it was discovery of gold, or the invention of the combustion engine, or the transmission of electricity, or the birth of computing, or wireless communications, each such event has not only leapfrogged our progress, but also led to immense value and wealth creation for the pioneers who risked it all to go after these emerging areas. The disruptive Covid-19 pandemic has been such a watershed event for the Nutrition Tech sector.
The 20th century was focused on mass production of food to ensure no one goes hungry which led to the creation of global FMCG behemoths. While this easy access to calories increased our life span, regular consumption of these sugar and fat laden processed foods led to a decreased quality of life with the emergence of lifestyle diseases, the root cause of which is poor nutrition.
Over the past two decades, while there was an emerging global trend towards better nutrition, the scale of the opportunity was never big enough in India for it to move from a fitness or curative niche to a part of your daily lifestyle. The per capita spend on nutritional products in India is a mere $2, compared to over $40 in developed economies. This is bound to shoot up exponentially.
Most conversations around health were exercise and goal oriented. However, now the pandemic has led to widespread acceptance of the science backed truth, that health is more about nutrition, than exercise. There has been an unprecedented focus on diet and nutrition as a means of being healthy. Vitamins and minerals, protein supplements and energy drinks have become part of everyday speak.
A recent survey found that in the month of June, over 92% medicine bills were for immunity boosters. Nutrition has thus gone from a good to have, to a must have. And this macro wave is leading to Nutrition Tech exploding as a business sector.
What Is Nutrition Tech?
It is not just the selling of nutritional products or health supplements or healthy foods online. Nutrition Tech leverages science, technology and innovation, in each segment of the value chain (R&D, Ingredients, Manufacturing, Retail, Logistics, Marketing, Services, Support) leading to better nutritional outcomes for the user. There are three main stream of Nutrition Tech opportunities:
Use of deep science and R&D has led to wider availability of new ingredients, alternate sources of proteins, botanicals that have health benefits, and plant fibres that can replace fats or sugars. These are the key to the future of food and drink.
AI, genetic markets, metabolism trackers and advanced deep technologies can now allow for bespoke and personalized offerings targeted to your individual dietary, lifestyle and medical preferences, instead of cookie-cutter off the shelf formulations.
Some emerging areas include:
- Ingredients and vendor supply chains using blockchain to ensure authenticity and visibility,
- Tech enabled small batch manufacturing with customization capabilities,
- Image-recognition based diet trackers that work on large datasets,
- AI/ML driven meal planners,
- IOT wearable devices that generate vital body markers.
- Gamified health coaches that help you on your health journeys,
- At-home nutritional counselling and guidance at scale on digital platforms
From Soylent to Impossible Foods to Care/of, multiple start-ups have already captured the imagination of the customers in developed economies and scaled up fast. The trend is picking up fast in India too. There is a slew of start-ups, especially new-age brands, that are vying to disrupt one or more of the above categories.
With over 1.3 Bn people, more than 93% of who having either macro or micronutrient deficiencies, the Indian market offers immense potential for nutrition tech startups. As per a report, the preventive healthcare market in India is expected to touch $100 Bn in 2022. As per Assocham, India’s nutraceuticals market is projected to grow from $4 Bn in 2017 to $18 Bn in 2025.
Estimates indicate that the spend on nutrition, healthy foods, functional foods and supplements is expected to quadruple to over $50 Bn in the next decade, growing at 17% CAGR. India’s learnings and expertise in the pharmaceutical and food processing sectors, availability of raw materials, deep rooted culture of Ayurveda and herbal nutrition, can be leveraged to make India a global powerhouse in the nutritional technology space.
The investors too are taking note. A multitude of start-ups have recently been funded in the health, wellness, foods and nutrition space. The rise in disposable incomes, increased consumer awareness, changed preferences of the urban elite will continue to fuel the demand for the right nutrition offerings, with ample space for many winners.
This, however, also presents the big challenge in this sector of breaking through the clutter. Relying purely on brand or marketing spends will not work. There has to be a conscious and deliberate differentiation. Another challenge is in building the supply chain with strong quality controls and processes, which till now have predominantly been monopolized by large global conglomerates.
The need to offer solutions more attuned to Indian needs and palates, is yet another challenge. However, each of these is an opportunity potentially worth billions. A nimble challenger which understands the customer, uses technology to their advantage, and has the right intent, can quickly emerge out of the shadows to be a leader in this space.