Monday, 30 May 2016

Food for Thought: Trends in “high-tech” food and nutrition

"Food for Thought: Trends in “high-tech” food and nutrition" is the latest Aistemos Cipher Snapshot, posted last week on the Aistemos website here. Do let us know what you think about this way of presenting a profile of intellectual property-backed innovation on a sectoral basis.


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A popular proverb says “You are what you eat”. The notion that to live a healthy life people have to adhere to healthy nutrition seems to be a universal truth.

People’s relation with food is constantly changing. Healthy food and nutrition have emerged as major concerns; as a consequence, technology is beginning to play a role in this market. Food supplements like proteins or vitamins have been available for a long time, though more recently companies have taken it one step further by creating food to fight diseases and increase overall health, such as weight loss supplements. Ecological and moral considerations are becoming more important as well. One example is lab-grown meat, which has emerged out of concerns over the carbon footprint and animal cruelty of meat production. Engineered meat and meat substitutes have certainly more media attention but are they also the subject of innovations from major companies?

The so-called functional food market looks promising. According to a recent statistic the functional/wellbeing food has grown by 6 percent between 2011 and 2015. In light of this, this snapshot examines the innovation trends within three categories:
* Engineered meat (including meat substitutes)

* Wellbeing food (e.g. to build muscle, lower glucose levels, stimulate weight loss etc.)

* Disease-treatment foods (food with a specific purpose to treat disease, inflammation etc.).
Figure 1 shows patent portfolio sizes over time split by technologies using a basket of 14 major companies as a proxy. The first thing to note is that these are not new technologies. There were hundreds of active patents in these areas from 15 years ago. Though since 2000, while wellbeing food and engineered meat have been virtually flat, disease-treatment food has taken off and seen a 3x increase. This is perhaps not surprising in light of giants such as Nestle venturing into the market.


To uncover company specific trends Figure 2a is a visualisation of the major companies in these markets and their respective patent “market share” of granted patents as well as their change over time (2011-2016). Nestle and Danone are the leading companies, with the rest having fairly similarly sized portfolios. Other than an apparent clear decline for Abbott and General Mills, it is quite hard to find a discernible macro-level trend; companies appear to have different or changed focus areas over the last 10 years.


In Figure 1 we saw engineered meat and wellbeing foods appearing to show no growth, however Figure 2b breaks this down and we can see that there has been a change of focus, with some companies heavily decreasing in one area but growing in the other (e.g. P&G, Mead Johnson and Unilever). Only Danone seems to grow in both areas. Turning from patent market share of current granted patents to the companies’ pipelines, i.e. pending patents, 
Table 1 shows that Nestle and Danone have more than half of the pending patent families dominating the disease-treatment category. Furthermore, Nestle has the highest number of pending patent families in the engineered meat and meat substitute cluster. Mead Johnson – manufacturer of infant formula – also has a significant pipeline size and interestingly so does Abbott, which has been losing market share of granted patents, the former focusing on wellbeing food and the latter on disease-treatment food.


The food markets are evolving with customers wanting their food to do more than merely nourish them. Large multinationals are driving these changes in a quest to make the food we eat healthier, more ecological and potentially cure diseases. Although companies driving the change is different compared to 10/15 years ago and a clear general trend towards disease-treating foods, innovation within the other categories is still significant. Nevertheless, if the companies succeed these changes can make a big difference in countries with increasing health problems such as diabetes and ageing populations.

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