3 predictions for the future of the medical nutrition market

By:  Talking Nutrition Editors



  • The global population is aging, chronic disease is rising and pressure on global healthcare systems is at an all-time high. However, so too is awareness of the positive impact that nutrition has on our health and wellbeing.
  • Collectively, these factors are presenting significant opportunities to innovate across a number of health and nutrition fields – especially in the realms of dietary supplements and medical nutrition. But what can we expect from future innovations?
  • To help manufacturers stay one step ahead of the curve, we zoom into the medical nutrition sector – revealing three predictions for how these trends will shape the future of solutions in this field. Read on to anticipate new opportunities.

Nutritional solutions are in high demand – particularly those supporting healthy aging or age-related conditions. We face the burden of (usually multiple) chronic illness(es), age-related challenges and physiological changes leading to frailty and nutritional deficiencies. Therefore, addressing the nutritional needs of older adults has become fundamental to supporting the health of the global aging population. This is driving the development of diverse nutritional solutions – from dietary supplements delivering nutrients for brain health, immunity and mobility to medical nutrition interventions targeting disease-related malnutrition.

Medical nutrition, in particular, has a special role to play in the health of the senior demographic – particularly when individuals are in hospital or home care. Medical nutrition is a nutritional field that focuses on reducing the risk, diagnosis and management of nutritional and metabolic deviations associated with acute and chronic illnesses. The reasons for prescribing medical nutrition therapies in older adults alongside diet vary widely. But key motives include aiding recovery during disease, increasing energy or calorie consumption to control weight or meeting basic nutritional requirements in order to counteract malnutrition. Regardless of the specific reasons, the ultimate goal of all medical nutrition interventions remain the same: to support therapeutic outcomes, overall health, and enhance quality of life.

With the number of medical nutrition products on the market likely to expand in the face of global challenges – what can brands expect from the future of the category and how can they tap into anticipated trends? Here, we dive into three things to expect from the future of medical nutrition solutions, highlighting opportunities for innovation in the realm.

1. More targeted solutions

Just like other health areas, customization is set to become a big focus in the medical nutrition market. But what exactly will more targeted solutions entail in this space?

Although disease-specific medical nutrition therapies already exist, we can expect to see more products tailored to specific conditions, particular disease states and patient preferences – powered by advancements in medical nutrition science and technology. This includes science-backed formulas specially designed to address nutritional needs in specific illnesses, like cancer, obesity, diabetes, neurological diseases and even post-surgery recovery. These bespoke solutions will offer more effective nutritional support by addressing the specific gaps arising from a given disease; ultimately leading to optimal care, better patient outcomes and reduced strain on global healthcare systems.

In terms of applications, cancer is expected to be a focal point for innovation given its escalating prevalence and critical need for nutrition support.1 Patients with cancer are at significant risk of weakened immunity and malnutrition. This can affect their response to therapy and increase treatment-related toxicity. Hence, patients with the disease require comprehensive nutritional support, as part of a comprehensive care plan, to promote their health and recovery – and will benefit significantly from more personalized solutions.

However, it’s not just medical nutrition formulas that might be getting an overhaul.

2. Novel delivery formats

Looking ahead, the method of nutrient delivery may also undergo a transformation. Medical nutrition solutions are usually delivered via oral nutrition supplements (ONS) or enteral nutrition (tube feeding). The oral clinical nutrition market dominates the landscape in terms of format (accounting for 53% in 2023),2 and encompasses a variety of product types, including beverages, puddings, soups, powders and yogurts to cater to diverse patient preferences. Yet despite the availability of different formats, there is still room for improvement to promote positive health experiences and prioritize patient-centricity. So, how will formats evolve in future?

Format innovation is particularly crucial when developing medical nutrition for older adults, who often encounter mental or physical barriers to eating – like poor appetite, reduced food enjoyment and difficulties swallowing. Behind the scenes, we are working hard at creating a novel meal fortification format that taps into the demand for convenient, palatable and easy-to-consume solutions, while also promoting a food-first approach. A sneak peek into this ongoing innovation was given at the Vitafoods 2024 where visitors had the chance to test this first-of-its-kind granular format. The tiny protein and micronutrient granules target deficiencies in the elderly, offering an ideal solution for individuals that want to improve their nutritional status, help maintain muscle mass, normal bones and immune function. A key advantage of this novel format is its high protein content. It delivers 10 grams of high-quality protein in a compact form in a smaller volume than the same amount of protein in a powder fortifier. Furthermore, sprinkles can be applied to a variety of food types whereas powders are often limited to soups and mashed food as excessive mixing is needed to avoid unpleasant lumps when blending powders into food. Finally, there is no dust formation when using sprinkles. The best part? It has no impact on the taste of food, meaning individuals can enjoy their meal as it is – bringing us on to our next prediction.

3. A bigger focus on flavors and textures

Along with the delivery of nutrients in novel formats, there are other ways that manufacturers are enhancing the appeal of medical nutrition solutions – including prioritizing taste and palatability, which will continue to be a focal point of future innovation. Why? Many current ONS suffer from unpleasant taste or textures, resulting in poor acceptability and compliance, particularly among individuals with sensory issues or taste aversions – like older adults. For example, protein-packed supplements may be too thick; key ingredients in oral dosage forms may have a bitter taste; or additives may contribute to undesirable off-flavors or aftertastes. In a survey we conducted to investigate senior adults’ attitudes towards medical nutrition, we found that some perceive medical drinks to have an “overly artificial taste” or they prefer to eat ‘normal’ and familiar foods they already enjoy, like steak, pizza or potatoes.

This presents an opportunity for industry players to restore and improve the enjoyment of medical nutrition foods and supplements for the elderly by catering to their complex sensory preferences and eating abilities. Some product developers are achieving this by leveraging solutions that promote smooth and pleasant textures, for example, or creating flavor profiles that captivate the senses and evoke positive emotions or nostalgia in this demographic. However, this is not without its challenges. To successfully innovate with flavors and textures and craft crafting patient-first medical nutrition products, closer collaboration between food scientists, medical nutrition experts and ingredient specialists are anticipated in the future.

Unlock the next frontier of medical nutrition solutions with dsm-firmenich

Developing outstanding medical nutrition products isn’t always easy. But the right partner can help to advance formulations with purpose. At dsm-firmenich, we’re passionate about making the world a healthier place through tailored nutritional care. We go beyond ingredients; delivering targeted, palatable and compliant medical nutrition solutions that help older adults and patients recover faster, reclaim their independence and enjoy a better quality of life.

At dsm-firmenich, we take a human-centric approach to innovation; ensuring consumer needs and preferences are addressed in a way that ultimately enhances quality of life. Partner with us to gain access to our broad portfolio of science-backed products, customized solutions and expert services, so that you can meet the ever-evolving and complex nutritional needs of patients and the elderly.


Published on

24 May 2024


6 min read

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