“Habit,” A Nutrition Start-Up Based on DNA

Tracey Lien reported yesterday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “When Liesl Bettencourt of Pleasanton, Calif., turned 50 recently, she decided it was time to get into shape. She signed up with Habit, an Oakland start-up that offers personalized nutrition recommendations, coaching and meals. And as soon as Habit sent her an initiation kit, she got nervous.

“The prospect of cutting out bread and cheese from her diet was hard enough, Bettencourt thought. Now she was being asked to use a lancet — a tiny needle that Habit sent her — to draw her own blood.”

The article noted that, “By requiring new users to submit three blood samples and a DNA swab, Habit has a higher barrier to entry than most companies in the nutrition and diet business. Starting a program requires more than ordering a week’s worth of meal-replacing drinks (a la Soylent), adding grass-fed cow’s butter to coffee (Bulletproof), or learning to grade different types of food using a proprietary rubric (Weight Watchers). In a sea of lifestyle and nutrition companies selling dieting life hacks, Habit is trying to set itself apart by emphasizing the ‘personal’ in personalized nutrition.

“For $299 (the cost of the metabolism test kit and Habit’s recommendations), the company studies each customer’s DNA to learn about dietary and digestive predispositions and offers nutritional advice and coaching based on the customer’s genotype (their genetic makeup) and phenotype (environmental influences). Aegis Sciences Corp. in Nashville, a toxicology lab that also does anti-doping testing for the NFL and Major League Baseball, tests how customers’ bodies process sugar, fat and carbs.”

Yesterday’s LA Times article stated that, “The company has so far attracted $32 million in funding from Campbell Soup Co., its sole financier, which also bought Plum Organics from Grimmer in 2013;” and added that, “With its $299 price tag, Habit’s personalized nutrition recommendations are aimed at a subset of affluent, diet-conscious customers. But with the U.S. weight-loss market valued at $66 billion in 2017, Morrison said Campbell is making a long-term bet on the start-up. Once customers shell out the initial fee, Habit can offer additional services: It plans to roll out prepared, customized meals across the country in the coming year, and will eventually sell meal plans, recipes and other products to help customers stay on track.”

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