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In conversation with Alex Glover: on NOVA, the Kardashians, TikTok, and ‘mock meats’…

5 min read
AUTHOR: Food Matters Live
Inspiring Nutrition Q and A template with Alex Glover headshot

In the lead up to Inspiring Nutrition this November, Food Matters Live sat down with Alex Glover, a Senior Nutritionist within the Global R&D team at Holland & Barrett. 

Alex will be speaking on the future of nutraceuticals panel at the upcoming London event, bringing his extensive industry experience and passion for science-based nutrition to the table.

What’s your take on UPFs?

It’s unhelpful. It’s too simplistic. It’s not nuanced enough. Nutrition Science is one of the most nuanced sciences, but NOVA takes a very binary approach. It simply says: ‘this food is processed, therefore we’re putting it as group four unhealthy’. To me, this is worrying.

The summary research, mostly observational, shows people who consume more ultra-processed foods appear to have poorer health outcomes, but we don’t actually know the degree of this effect yet.

We need to understand more about the relationship between ultra-processed foods and health, which are generally high in salt, sugar and saturated fat. Also we don’t understand the competing mechanisms behind why processed foods potentially cause harm.

How about the apocalyptic headlines around plant-based food?

The market has become overly saturated, it’s grown too quickly. I think we’re seeing almost a course correction. Big brands like PepsiCo and Nestle have discontinued their main ranges of plant-based mock meats.

I think Beyond Meat was worth 10 billion at its peak, and it’s worth around 900 million now. It’s gone from a $10 billion valuation to a $900 million valuation, which is just astronomical course correction – I’d never seen such a crash before.

But again, it’s almost a misnomer, you see on LinkedIn [people saying] “plant-based has failed”, [which is] absolutely not the case. I think it’s just the case [that] the market was growing too quickly.

Has the plant-based product market been too focused on meat imitations?

It’s really interesting. My biggest concern is if you take something like chicken breast and you look at the nutritional value, high protein, no salt, low saturated fat, then compare this to plant-based meats, I am yet to find one mock meat that isn’t high in salt, and they typically have lots of saturated fat in them. That’s my big worry –they’re all full of salt to help them taste like meat, and the calorie content.

“It’s a very difficult industry sometimes, lots of companies are just out to make money.”

What ingredients do you see trending?

From a supplemental point of view, those around health span and longevity. Certainly, when I went to Vitafoods this year, longevity seems to be a big one. So health span in particular, not just living longer, but living better. And things like functional mushrooms and CBD are all growing up again despite some quite stringent regulatory measures.

What ingredients do you feel have significant growth potential?

We have seen a small increase in things like post-biotic products and gut health. So potentially something like that, once we start to understand more about the gut microbiome. I think there are a lot of products within that space that have potential for growth, but I think a lack of consumer understanding is the main barrier to growth at the moment.

What are the big drivers of supplement trends?

The biggest is social media, specifically things like TikTok… people like the Kardashians, when they talk about something you will see an uptick on our website.

“The wellness sector is still growing at a higher rate than most other sectors in retail.”

Do nutraceutical companies have a responsibility to educate consumers beyond product labels?

Absolutely. One of our key strategic pillars is to be evidence and science-based, we’ve got a huge learning and development function across 800 stores in the UK. It’s a really big part of our business to make sure that we’re actually being responsible and doing things with integrity.

Do you think the industry does enough to tackle misinformation?

No, I think there are a lot of sales pitches within the industry. You see many ingredients that when challenged for scientific robustness, it’s not there. It’s a very difficult industry sometimes, lots of companies are just out to make money.

How has the cost-of-living crisis shaped consumer demand for nutraceuticals?

In terms of the cost of living crisis, we haven’t seen much of a change in terms of demand for wellness solutions. Actually, I still think post-Covid has seen an increased demand, and the sector is still growing at a higher rate than most sectors in retail.

I think there is probably a growing awareness, specifically in the UK, that our healthcare system is in crisis. And it doesn’t seem to be improving. From a cost of living perspective, we have seen an increase in the sale of commoditised single ingredients. But actually, in terms of complex solutions, we are still seeing growth as well.

Join us at Inspiring Nutrition to have your say

Join Alex and other leading experts from across the nutrition and health communities for 2 days of networking and discussion at Inspiring Nutrition. Taking place in both London and Manchester this year, make sure to secure your place and join the conversation. Get your industry pass before September 15th and save £170!