Demand for personalisation in the path to purchase is on the rise across grocery in almost every category, but especially in food and drink. Market research from GlobalData shows that food products tailored to interest, diet (vegetarian, vegan, low carbohydrate), culture and lifestyle are growing in value and volume. Between 2020 and 2023, the value of food products appealing to specific consumer groups grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.2% and volume CAGR of 1.2%.  The analysis covered 10 key markets, including the UK, the US, Russia, Spain and China.

This growth aligns with shifting consumer behaviour and consumption drivers. More people are adapting their diets for ethical reasons, allergies, weight loss and to maintain physical and mental health and wellbeing as awareness grows about the strong correlation between food and health and busy, stressful lifestyles limit opportunities to relax, unwind and incorporate the appropriate amount of nutrition into meals.      

In the first quarter of 2023, a third (33%) of consumers taking part in one of the biggest surveys in the world, commissioned by GlobalData, said that they considered it ‘essential’ for products to be tailored to their interests before making a purchase. Consumers aged between 25 to 34 are the most influenced by tailored products (61%), although this trend was noted across demographics. By Q3 of last year, more than half of survey respondents (56%) said they were influenced always or often by food and drinks tailored to their needs and personality and the biggest purchase driver was wellness.

Health and wellness are growing drivers in grocery shopping

More than half (63%) of the survey respondents said that health labelling on product packaging, including information on protein, sugar and preservative content, always or often influences their product choices.

On this basis, GlobalData analysts advise food brands to seize the opportunity presented by these high-growth groups and in particular those seeking to boost their immunity and protect physical and mental health in the short and long-term.

“Non-alcoholic drinks and food brands can benefit from including health-enhancing and functional ingredients given growing demand for such properties,” says Chris Rowland, associate analyst, GlobalData. Manufacturers are already aligning with this trend. New offerings for vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free, gluten-free, and low-carb diets are giving customers the choice to find options that best suit their taste and dietary requirements.

Pre, pro and increasingly postbiotics are also becoming popular additions to food and drink formulations, with many studies showing the benefits of these on digestive and brain health as well as general immunity to infection and illness.  

“By incorporating these ingredients into food and drinks, it becomes possible to customise the nutritional content of meals according to individual needs. For example, adding protein powder to a smoothie can enhance muscle recovery for athletes, while incorporating specific biotics into food and drink can support immune health,” says Dr Chyn Boon Wong, manager of science communication and marketing at Morinaga Milk, a leading dairy company in Japan best known for its extensive research and development of original functional ingredients, specifically probiotics and postbiotics.

Revolutionary – but manufacturing challenges must be overcome

She adds: “Widening the application of functional ingredients, it becomes easier to target and address health issues, as well as promote overall wellbeing. For instance, incorporating postbiotics like our LAC-Shield, which our studies show enhance immunity, into food and drinks can benefit individuals who are prone to the common cold.”

Food personalisation is not just about nutrition; it also involves tailoring the taste and experience to individual preferences. Healthy eating habits are much easier to maintain when the consumer enjoys the products they are consuming, and manufacturers can cater to this by expanding their ranges to cater to diverse preferences.

Manufacturers seeking to cater to the food personalisation market will therefore need to invest in product development, which can be a costly and lengthy process. Furthermore, when adding functional ingredients, manufacturers need to be sure they do not compromise the flavour and texture of their products.

The benefits of functional ingredients must also be able to withstand intensive production methods, including heating, cooling, and processing, without affecting the taste of familiar products consumers love. For example, food applications with probiotics tend to be in the chilled category, yoghurts, kefir and which have limited lifespan. Postbiotics, however, can be used in long life shelf staples and could be key to rolling out functional ingredients to many more food products.

Postbiotics – the next big talking point

Postbiotics are a preparation of inanimate microorganisms and/or their components. They are the most recently defined category of immune-boosting biotics and could become the next big food industry talking point as a result of their unique characteristics and resilience in harsh processing conditions. Therefore, unlike probiotics, they can be incorporated into a wide range of foods, including cupboard essentials such as juice, tea, energy drinks, nutritional bar, bakery products, and confectionary.

Morinaga Milk’s LAC-Shield postbiotic that has been scientifically proven to protect against the common cold and boost influenza vaccine response. Selected from several thousand strains of lactic acid bacteria, this strain has a uniquely strong capacity to induce the production of interleukin-12 (IL-12), a cytokine with important regulatory functions, including bridging innate and adaptive immunity. LAC-Shieldhas already been incorporated into more than 1,000 products in Japan by more than 500 companies.

Dr Wong believes that scientific advances in postbiotics are set to contribute significantly to the new demand for individualised food products.

“Given the fact that postbiotic ingredients such as LAC-Shield are highly versatile, their potentials for food and beverage applications are endless. LAC-Shield does not change the flavour and colour of the finished products, and therefore can be incorporated into various food and beverage applications to support immune health,” Dr Wong says.

“In the future postbiotics could be used in a wide range of food and drink formats to meet the health requirements of individuals in a highly personalised diet plan.”

To learn more about the future of postbiotics and personalised food, download the free whitepaper below.