The world’s largest food company is experimenting with people’s DNA to build and sell personalized nutrition plans that, it says, will extend lifespans and keep people healthy.
Nestlé is rolling out these new products in Japan first. Some 100,000 people are taking part in a company program there that gives consumers a kit to collect their DNA at home. The program also encourages them to use an app to post pictures of what they’re eating. Nestlé then recommends dietary changes and supplies specialized supplements that can be sprinkled on or mixed into a variety of food products, including teas, according to Bloomberg.
For years Nestlé been positioning itself to straddle the line between pharmaceuticals and food. In December 2016, then-chairman, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe made the case to Quartz that personalized, fortified foods would be the future. The dream, according to Brabeck-Letmathe, is to invent a new suite of food products that could prevent diseases from occurring. Pizzas that can ward off Alzheimer’s disease, for instance.
Brabeck-Letmathe has since retired from the company, but his vision is intact. It’s setting Nestlé apart from its food industry peers.
The world’s largest food manufacturers have spent the last several years trying to regain footing with consumers in America and Europe, who lost faith in many packaged goods products because of its artificial flavors and coloring, sugar, and salt content. Nestlé, in particular, saw sales in its US frozen-foods plummet. General Mills and Kellogg’s watched as their breakfast cereals became less popular. And Coca-Cola and Pepsico both saw consumers drift away from sugary sodas, opting instead for healthier teas and flavored waters.
The shift in purchasing habits sparked companies to reformulate products to persuade consumers back into buying their foods. For Nestlé, that meant changing the ingredient lists on a whole host of well-known brand’s products, including California Pizza Kitchen, Hot Pockets, and Digiorno’s Pizza. The company sold off its US candy unit earlier this year, and recently announced a $7.15 billion licensing deal with Starbucks that will allow it to sell the Seattle-based coffee maker’s teas and coffees around the world.
Customizing meals via DNA analysis takes this recent mentality to a new level, and it’s complimenting its food efforts with investments in medical research. Since 2007, Nestlé has spent billions acquiring firms such as Novartis Medical Nutrition, Atrium Innovations, Vitaflo, Prometheus Laboratories, a minority stake in Accera, and Seres Therapeutics, Inc., to name a few.
Japan may wind up informing how Nestlé will rolls out the program in other places around the world. Until then, people will just have to wait for their personalized wonder pizzas.