Nestlé signals personalised nutrition priority in Japan with launch of new DNA testing platform

By Cheryl Tay

- Last updated on GMT

Nestlé executives in Switzerland have been tracking and emulating the firm's innovations in Japan, where it has raked in handsome profits over the last few years.
Nestlé executives in Switzerland have been tracking and emulating the firm's innovations in Japan, where it has raked in handsome profits over the last few years.
Nestlé Japan has announced plans to branch out from the food and beverage business into healthcare, with personalised nutrition and aged care a prominent feature of this shift.

One of its first initiatives under this plan is the Nestlé Wellness Ambassador platform, which offers nutritional advice to customers based on their blood and DNA test results, and information on their dietary habits.

The company collaborated with Japanese start-ups Genesis Healthcare and Halmek Ventures, both of which examine the DNA and blood tests, before launching the platform in October 2017. It currently has around 90,000 subscribers.

Subscribers receive a home kit for them to carry out their own blood and DNA tests before submitting the results. Using the chat app Line, they can share photos of their meals for the platform's AI to analyse, whereupon they will be given dietary advice.

They can also choose from a range of 17 different recommended supplements, including specialised green tea-flavoured nutritional supplements containing vitamins, magnesium or calcium.

A personal touch

Regarding the collaboration, Nestlé Japan's media relations manager Tokuo Hosokawa told NutraIngredients-Asia​: "We are always careful when selecting our partners, (especially) in terms of their credibility. 

"We selected Genesis and Halmek from this viewpoint, and because their home testing kits matched well with what we intended to provide."

He said the personalised dietary advice based on blood and DNA test results was "the most important part of our service"​, and to "fix the shortfalls" ​of users' diets, Nestlé Japan would recommend functional beverages such as matcha​ drinks with vitamins and minerals, kale smoothies, and milk drinks with collagen and amino acids.

Presently, Nestlé has implemented this platform only in Japan, though board members from Switzerland have been visiting Nestlé Japan to examine the possibility of launching similar healthcare initiatives in the company's other markets.

However, the firm remains secretive, with Hosokawa merely saying, "We know other Nestlé markets are interested in our initiative."

Living longer, living better

While the platform is not just for older people, Nestlé Japan aims to further advance its services so as to help seniors live healthily for as long as possible. To do so, it is is working with French insurer Axa to promote the platform to company employees, and develop new healthcare services using customer data from both firms.

Hosokawa said, “The partnership agreement includes the extension of healthy life expectancy and health and productivity management. We are working to enrich our health and productivity management, establish joint operation of an online platform focusing on health promotion, and start joint research on health services and medical insurance offers​.”

Setting an international example?

Nestlé Japan CEO Kozo Takaoka believes this could serve as a model for Nestlé in other advanced nations whose populations are also ageing.

In fact, Nestlé executives in Switzerland have been tracking and emulating the firm's innovations in Japan, where it has raked in handsome profits over the last few years, elevating Takaoka to the position of chief innovation officer at its Swiss headquarters.

Thanks to its innovations, Nestlé Japan has been largely responsible for the entire company's profitability. Last year, its overall sales saw a 30% increase from 2010, and Nestlé Japan's sales grew by 2.8%, compared to the 0.7% seen in the firm's developed markets.

In addition, Nestlé Japan has been developing its e-commerce channel, through which sales are projected to hit 20%. According to Takaoka, this figure is much higher than many other food firms manage to achieve.

Keeping up with the times

He has said that amid tough competition, declining populations in developed countries, and rapid technological advancements, "the healthcare industry is the only way for food companies to survive"​.

He has also emphasised the need to solve each customer's "unconscious problem"​ by offering tailored nutritional solutions instead of just selling supplements.

To maintain a high level of credibility, Nestlé Japan only recommends health products based on professional medical assessment, a method that necessitates contributions from third parties across various industries.

For this reason, Takaoka intends to widen Nestlé Japan's healthcare platform to the point where consumers can obtain all the information they need from a single source.

Hosokawa said, "We are also expanding Nestlé Health Science in Japan, with brands such as Peptamen, ISOCAL and BOOST."

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