Seven companies will participate in the pilot project. Their role includes developing personalised nutrition products and toolkits to assess consumers’ health as well as operating the personalised nutrition stores.
The companies are Pulmuone Health & Living, Amorepacific, Amway Korea, Cosmax NBT, Herbalife Korea, Bigsome, and Mono Labs.
The tailored approach is expected to prevent the excessive consumption and misuse of nutraceutical products.
In the stores, consumers will have their health assessed via questionnaires or genetic testing and receive nutraceuticals suitable for them on the spot.
The MFDS said different brands could design different methods of assessment but “what they all have in common is that they are services that are based on a foundation of scientific, objective data such as eating habits, exercise, and direct-to-consumer genetic testing.”
Recommendations will be made by pharmacists and dietitians stationed at the stores. Only six different formats of products are allowed for sale, which are tablet, capsule, pill, flake, bar and jelly. This is because they are more resistant to change in quality as compared to other dosage formats.
“The MFDS projects that personalised health functional foods will take root as a system that fulfills demand for daily well-being in the ageing society as well as reflects the latest consumer trends, centred on the user, not the supplier,” the ministry said in a statement.
The South Korean authorities have deliberated on policies to regulate the personalised nutrition industry since last year, partly also because they saw economic value in driving the sector.
Pulmuone Health and Living, one of the health foods companies involved, has opened its first personalised nutrition retail store at Bangi-dong, located in the south-eastern part of Seoul.
As part of the opening ceremony, the company also launched its line of nutraceuticals branded PERPACK.
The health status of a customer is assessed by a professional nutritionist using questionnaires. The questions will find out their dietary and living habits, metabolic syndromes, food allergies, and medication use.
There are 17 nutraceuticals, ranging from vitamin D, biotin, green tea extract, ginseng to zinc, which can generate 20,000 combinations of personalised supplements, Lee Dong-whan, head of strategic business division at Pulmuone Health and Living told NutraIngredients-Asia.
He revealed that the company was allowed to operate five such stores during the two-year pilot project.
He added that the number of supplements that the company offered was expected to increase from 17 to 30 next year.
After the first consultation, consumers can purchase the same types of products online without visiting the personalised nutrition retail store.
The MFDS will be providing product packaging equipment to be placed in the retail stores.
This is because the packaging of the nutraceuticals is done on the spot and thus, there is a need to ensure that the packaging process is hygienic, and that the quality of the nutraceuticals is maintained.
Lee Eui-Kyung, the minister at MFDS, reiterated that sanitation and safety management were crucial for the success of the project.
“The basic sanitation and safety management are important factors for this project to be successfully implemented.
“The MFDS will closely examine the pilot business processes to see if there are any areas that need to be systematically improved on to ensure consumer safety,” she said.
Seven in 10 South Koreans surveyed were willing to purchase personalised nutrition products.
Citing the survey conducted by the company and Seoul National University of Science and Technology last year, Lee said 88% agreed with the government’s policy on introducing the pilot project to the market.
Another 74% said they find personalised nutrition products and services favourable and 71.8% said they were willing to purchase the products.
“The current awareness and uptake of personalised nutrition among consumers have are relatively low for now.
“According to recent surveys, however, consumers reported positive emotions on personalised nutrition,” Lee said.
The MFDS on the other hand, pointed out that there has been an uptake in the demand for personalised nutrition due to the increased availability of genetic analysis services, as well as consumers’ desire for preventive wellness.
Thomas Hayes, research analyst, food and nutrition at Lux Research told us that the value proposition of this initiative could be viewed in two folds.
First, the availability of a health professional to interpret the results will help consumers better understand the significance of the data. This is as opposed to consumers receiving a lengthy document and sifting through the data on their own.
Second, he believes that providing a physical, personalised product is likely to increase consumers’ likelihood in taking the supplements regularly.
“I find that this is an interesting development in South Korea. It seems like it’s the traditional nutritionist model, but making it more convenient and accessible to the consumers,” he said.
He said that the development came at a time when there was a drop in personalised nutrition commercial activities globally.
He pointed out that the venture capital funds for personalised nutrition had dropped from US$150m last year to only US$20m at present.
Ideally, a personalised nutrition business should provide different options for consumers, he said.
An example is a tiered-based service, where the more the consumer pays, the more sophisticated the assessment toolkit and analysis are.
Nonetheless, he believes that South Korea’s two-year long pilot project is “a step in the right direction” which will give more insights on the personalised nutrition industry.