Campbell Soup drops Habit, selling its nutrition company to Viome

(source)

Dive Brief:

  • Campbell Soup sold Habit, a personalized nutrition company that provides nutrition plans based on an individual’s own biology, to Viome, a healthcare company that uses artificial intelligence, according to a press release. 
  • The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Campbell Soup has been the sole investor and majority shareholder for Habit since the company’s inception in 2015.
  • “With Habit now part of Viome, we have the perfect articulation of personalized health,” Viome founder and CEO Naveen Jain said in a statement. “I have always admired Habit’s ability to engage and motivate the consumer. Combined with Viome’s deep insights from the microbiome, we are able to see the complete story our body is telling us about our overall health.”

Dive Insight:

Like many other CPG companies, Campbell has spent the better part of the last seven years working its way into the better-for-you space in an effort to keep pace with consumers’ demands for healthier offerings. However, the soup mogul ended up on a bumpy road, leaving it in the debt-heavy position that led to the decision to sell its fresh business and international operations after a strategic review.

Campbell Soup has officially posted its Austrailian cookie brand Arnott’s for sale, which has reportedly received interest from Kraft Heinz and Mondelez. In October, there were reports that a group of investors led by the former CEO of Bolthouse Farms was interested in bidding on the fresh division.

With more than three-quarters of consumers looking to eat more fresh foods, it is not surprising that Campbell originally fell into a strategy of following the fresh trend. However, many successful fresh brands require a level of innovation and maneuverability that is difficult for CPG companies to manage, so most large manufacturers that acquire natural and organic brands prefer to let these companies keep control of the business.

In a way, that is what Campbell did with Habit. The soup company held a majority stake and its plan was not to fully integrate the startup, but to take advantage of the growing demand for convenient meals. Campbell already established delivery infrastructure to bring personalized meal kits right to customers’ doorsteps.

However, now that the company is reverting back to its core soup and snacks operation, it is shedding this nutrigenomics startup. Although Viome looks like it will be a better long-term partner for Habit, Campbell still likely benefited from the short partnership.

Since Habit operated off data — it sent customers an at-home test kit that included a DNA cheek swab, fasting blood test, a mixed meal metabolic challenge beverage, body metrics and a behavioral survey in order to develop an individual nutrition plan — Campbell was likely privy to some of this information, which could help with its own product development. It would’ve been wise for Campbell to tap into that information for their snack division, especially if the behavior tests included a section about cravings. Even though the sale of this company will curtail the transmission of data, if Campbell is able to keep any records from the past two years, they may prove to be an invaluable gold mine.

Viome will be able to tap directly into the science behind Habit. According to Popular Science, studies show that the gut microbiome could have a significant effect on how people break down foods, as well as what nutrients and calories are extracted from them. Although Habit doesn’t currently analyze a consumer’s microbiome, once the sale to Viome is finalized, it likely will begin to do so.

As Habit is the first personalized direct-to-consumer complete nutrition program, the prudence of this sale remains to be seen. It could be that Campbell let go of a gem. This also could prove that nutrigenomics is merely a passing fad and one that the soup giant did not need to have on board as it searches to find a life raft for its financial woes. 

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