MD’s corner

By Anna Campbell

Decoding the human genome originally took 10 years of processing; now it can be achieved in one week. This has implications for human medicine, but also for food producers. Last year, international food giant, Campbell’s Soup, invested in nutrition tech start-up “Habit”. Check them out at, and in the words of Denise Morrison, CEO of Campbell’s Soup: “The entire food industry is being transformed by the fusion of food, well-being, and technology.”

Essentially, what Habit does is assess a customer’s DNA profile, blood, body metrics, and lifestyle. Then, through a bunch of proprietary algorithms, they feed back information to that customer about the type of diet they require and offer services around coaching and on-going assessments as well as providing actual meals.

Yes, there is some science behind their claims, but critics believe the hype is well ahead of the science. It’s difficult to assess when we have no access to their methods of analyses or their results... does that matter? I’m the first to admit that I spend money on anti-aging face creams which I know have sketchy scientific credibility - I like the pretty jars and I buy hope! Ultimately though, I believe a long-term food business proposition requires a combination of credible science, market positioning, and aspiration.

I jump on a few soap boxes regarding New Zealand’s food producing sector, but my greatest soap box is the need for NZ to be in the food and health game in a more concerted manner. We have great medical schools, great food producers, and some great initiatives to put the two together in the R&D sector. For example, the High Value Nutrition Science Challenge, and in the private sector, Zespri and Comvita are storming along well and check out Anagenix for the next wave of smart products. Yet, I worry we are not investing enough, we are too slow and we are missing big opportunities. How do we gain a better understanding of the impact of designed red meat products on our elderly? How do we package more of our fruit and vegetable products in an accessible health-giving form to eat on the go? How do we target yoga-loving customers, or people who would like to be yoga-loving but don’t quite get there, with sheep-milk energy drinks?

It is competitive out there and every primary sector in the world is nervously scanning the synthetic product horizon and planning what they can do. NZ needs to be strategic across government, industry, and private sectors. We need to innovate to compete, we need to push the boat faster.