Personalised nutrition company teams up with major UK retailer

In a collaboration that is one of the first of its kind, premium UK retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S) has teamed up with personalised nutrition company Zoe to launch a "gut shot". It is the first Zoe-branded food product to hit the market, and the first time that Marks & Spencer has partnered with a personalised nutrition company.

Launched in 2022, Zoe is a personalised nutrition program said to be based on the world’s largest nutrition-science study, the PREDICT study that has been running since 2018 with the involvement of institutions such as Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and King’s College London. The study has included 102,000 participants to date.

Zoe customers start by doing an at-home microbiome test and blood fat test while also attaching a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to their arm. Zoe then uses data from all three sources and draws on the results of the PREDICT study to analyse which foods the consumer is likely to respond well to and which they should avoid. Each food is scored on a scale of 1-100 and the Zoe app allows consumers to build their own meals and see how they score. The app will also provide personalised advice on how to combine, swap, and add foods to improve the score.

Widely promoted as improving blood sugar response, metabolic health and gut health, Zoe is available in the UK only, where it has over 100,000 customers.

The partnership with M&S marks Zoe’s first foray into branded products. Made from a kefir base and flavoured with fruits like apple, blackcurrant and baobab, the shot is free from added sugar. The fruit purée and chicory fibre provide the sweetness. Total sugars are 5.6g per 100ml.

Each 150ml shot is said to deliver 5 billion live bacteria from 14 different strains. However, as European regulators don’t allow any health claims to be made about probiotics, the brand relies on the permitted claims for fibre and calcium to communicate the gut health benefits - a standard practice across Europe.

The M&S Food x Zoe gut shot is available in all 316 M&S Food stores across the UK, where it will retail at £2 ($2.5/€2.3) per 150ml shot. With that price, the Zoe shots sell at an 85-183% price premium compared to other gut shots like Actimel or Yakult – something that customers have criticised it for online. 

The Zoe system has proven popular with consumers but has been criticised widely by dietitians. Zoe is fronted by Tim Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King's College, London, who appears in its advertising and in social media. Professor Spector's reputation lends the system credibility, but he has also been criticised by dietitians on social media who differ on many of the nutrition observations he makes.

The Zoe gut shot is likely to succeed as a premium, niche brand. If that works for M&S and for Zoe that may be good enough. But it's prospects of achieving wider appeal are low, given its cost and how the Zoe system's appeal is limited to a niche of health-active consumers.

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