The genomics in nutrigenomics

Several consumer research surveys have identified specific consumer interests directly relevant to utilization of genetic information in nutrigenomics-based applications. In 2008, the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions reported that 61% of consumers want tools to provide recommendations to improve their health (Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, 2008). Cogent Research identified a population of over 100 million adults as 'very interested' in the use of genetic information to guide nutritional recommendations (Cogent Research, 2006). The International Food Information Council found that 79% of adult consumers had 'very' or 'somewhat favorable' attitudes towards the use of genetic information to provide diet or lifestyle recommendations (International Food Information Council, 2008). These results demonstrate that many consumers accept and expect that genetic information will one day be used to help determine food choices, particularly to promote health and wellness.

To address the question the individual consumer asks namely, 'What foods are right for me?', nutrigenomics companies have developed a genetic assessment model involving the use of genetic information of an individual to provide dietary and lifestyle advice. In this service delivery model, an individual submits a cell sample to a company for analysis and preparation of a testing report. The individual consumer's results may consist of a simple genetic report identifying particular genetic variations, a combined genetic report with nutritional and lifestyle advice and, in some instances, nutritional products like supplements may be offered.

Determination of the value chain is a major question in the evolution of this individualized approach to the business of nutrigenomics, also referred to as personalized nutrition or personalized genetics. That is, where does the money flow and how does this become a sustainable business model? There are several steps to this process, beginning with the genetic test. The test may be a single purchase enterprise, which then could become grouped into a 'diagnostic' type of business model. In this instance, rather than diagnosing a particular disease or condition, the diagnostic is to determine the right food, ingredient or nutritional supplement for the consumer based on genotype. The diagnostic market has typically been considered a low-margin, technically challenging business but, with consumer trends moving toward greater customization and personalization, there may be considerable growth in this industry. Still the question remains, how does a company build a sustainable business? Do companies sell as many tests to as many consumers as possible, or is there an opportunity for repeat sales as new genes, new discoveries and new food products and supplements become available?

Investors and analysts in the marketplace generally look for sustainable revenue sources and the diagnostic model holds little appeal unless it can lead to long-term repeat sales. For example, sales of a customized food product or supplement formulation based on a particular individual's genetic profile would be more appealing. This type of approach represents an attractive proposition if it means the introduction of premium products into a marketplace that has traditionally been considered a commodity market with low margins. Yet, challenges to the success of this type of model are many. From the perspective of business logistics, these challenges include:

  • Genetic testing on a wide scale: currently the consumer pays out of pocket for assessments. Can the cost of assessment be reimbursable, who delivers the information to the consumer and how can this be carried out on a mass scale?
  • Food ingredients and functional foods: can companies in the marketplace or governmental agencies bear the cost of research needed to validate the association of particular foods with particular genetic profiles?
  • How is the food or ingredient delivered: are there a multitude of individualized formulae ('one size fits one'), or are there groupings of products that can be applicable to many consumers, but not all?
  • The bottom line for the growth of the industry: is the consumer willing to pay a premium for genetically based assessments and for functional foods with the potential of conferring specific health benefits?
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