Kobe, Japan — Nestlé, the brand you might associate first with such decadent confections as Crunch bars, Laffy Taffy, and Toll House cookies, has made a decided turn toward the healthful. With a new program, started in Japan, through which consumers photograph their food and share them with nutritionists, the father of Butterfinger demonstrates awareness of the world’s waning enthusiasm for hyper-saccharine treats. Nestlé’s telling effort—the “Wellness Ambassador Program”—will help the 152-year-old corporation meet consumer expectations of the future.

Nestlé is asking for more, actually, than just pictures of people’s food. They also want people’s genes. With at-home DNA-testing and blood-test kits, Wellness Ambassadors relay their samples to Nestlé, which collaborates with Halmek Ventures to analyze blood and with Genesis Healthcare to analyze DNA. The testing will reveal a person’s predispositions to conditions like diabetes and high cholesterol. Nestlé issues individual lifestyle recommendations based on these results and users’ current food choices. 

On top of that, users then receive personalized capsules that can be used to make smoothies, teas, and other snacks, fortified with the vitamins they were determined to need most. 

According to some, the value of such tailored meals is dubious. As New York University nutritionist Marion Nestle said, “Nestlé’s program is designed to personalize diets in ways unlikely to be necessary. If we think something will make us healthier, we are likely to feel healthier.”

But consumer interest and evolving technology indicate that the trend will only grow in popularity. Former Nestlé chef Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, in his 2017 book Nutrition for a Better Life, wrote that, in the future, “Using a capsule similar to a Nespresso, people will be able to take individual nutrient cocktails or prepare their food via 3-D printers according to electronically recorded health recommendations.” 

Earlier this year, Nestlé sold off its U.S. candy business to Nutella-maker Ferrero.

Why This Matters

One important trend at play here is the growing success of nutraceuticals. These are substances derived from conventional foods and sold as wellness supplements or even as medicine. The success of the Wellness Ambassador program, which already boasts over 100,000 users paying $600 a year, suggests that nutraceuticals will get only more popular.

The brand’s DNA-examining partnerships are also particularly noteworthy. Nestlé is not the only major food company creating healthier offerings through AI and genetics: an even earlier disruptor was Campbell Soup, which invested $32 million in Habit, a startup that uses AI to parse people’s DNA and then build custom meal plans. Even Big Food is expected now to put out more salubrious, more personalized options to our increasingly health-conscious, me-first society. 

About the Author:

Ben helps spark innovative healthcare thinking as Associate Director of Innovation. Previously on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair, he brings experience in engaging, rigorous storytelling to the healthcare world. Ben’s goals are to move brands to rethink their roles, own their evolving narratives, and maintain vital and vigorous consumer relationships.