From Star Trek to Silicon Valley, Nestle Presses for Nutritional Edge

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Nestle is pressing the envelope of nutrition and health with new research efforts on at least two continents that could transform the company from a provider of commoditized, mainstream CPG foods and beverages to a cutting-edge purveyor of medicalized nutrition delivered through entirely new forms of products and services.

Broadly, those are the aims both of new programs at Nestle’s Institute of Health Sciences in Switzerland that promise personalized nutrition with a Star Trek sheen as well as advances being sought by its Silicon Valley outpost, which has been open about a year now.

Nestle is one of the major CPG players that has established a presence in Silicon Valley and is skewing its efforts there toward better-for-you products and services. “It’s helping us chase the next big thing as it relates to solving specific pain points in our business and to get an edge in areas of strategic importance,” Mark Brodeur, global head of digital marketing innovation for Nestle, told brandchannel.[more]

The newer initiative is unfolding at corporate headquarters in Lausanne, where 15 of the 110 scientists at the Nestle Institute are working on a program code-named “Iron Man” whose ultimate goal is nothing less than allowing dispensing of individually tailored nutrients from the equivalent of an espresso machine. Or, as Bloomberg put it, a technology that was inspired by the Replicator, which synthesized food and medicine for The Next Generation in the “Star Trek” franchise.

Mass-produced nutritional supplements have proven of dubious actual value. So Nestle’s approach in Iron Man is to figure out a nutrient profile for each individual and then tailor a type of prescription for fortifying that person, which could be dispensed in a pod like Nestle’s Nespresso coffee. This would take Nestle far beyond its current medical foods, such as the products it makes for maladies such as Alzheimer’s, and so it may yet be several years in the making.

But Iron Man represents a bold new direction for Nestle research. “Iron Man is an analysis of what’s missing in our diets, and a product, tailored to you, to help make up that difference,” Institute Director Ed Baetge told Bloomberg. “In the past, food was just food. We’re going in a new direction.”

In Silicon Valley, Nestle’s small team is attracted to the area’s digital technology culture and its attempting to attract talent and ideas in areas ranging from shopping apps to customer-relationship management to “augmented reality” to medical research into the digitization of medical foods and services.

“There’s a lot of value we can bring to some of the startups in Silicon Valley and vice versa,” Brodeur said. “It’s about finding the right matches and getting in early and trying to provide the expertise and support that only Nestle could, and develop any solutions collaboratively.”

Nestle spends more than $2 billion a year on R&D, Brodeur said, more than any other CPG on better-for-you solutions.

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