YO! Sushi has announced a new DNA dining concept which embraces the trend for personalisation. MCA’s Finn Scott-Delany looks at the consumer behaviour around customisation, and asks whether YO!’s adoption of it could herald a new era for dining.

Personalisation is a trend in food and beverage that has been much talked about in industry forecasting – but with few mainstream examples yet coming to the fore.

While independents have traditionally been able to cater to individual needs, brands at scale are often unable to tinker with highly spec’d menus, due to centralised production kitchens and well-drilled systems.

With tech long mooted as a solution to this, YO! Sushi yesterday announced its first-of-a-kind ‘DNA dining’ concept, YO! Dinner, YO! Way, which uses genetic testing to personalise the dining experience.

Working with genetic testing company DNAFit, consumers’ genetic science will be analysed to determine the most suitable nutrition to feed their body.

This includes identifying the 33% who suffer from lactose-intolerance or the 64% who require an intake of oily fish for more omega 3.

The concept follows YO!’s The Future Laboratory report, which identifies five consumer tribes, including the ‘Personalists’ tribe who seek bespoke experiences tailored to the individual, and embrace technology and science to track their wellness and use data to feed their diet choices.

Diners complete a home-test before receiving a breakdown of their unique needs, potential food sensitivities and diet plan, and a tailored recommendation on what to eat at YO! in their personalised plate plan designed with DNAFit and YO! chefs.

The trend intersects with the topical debate around allergens, brought to the fore by the tragic death of Pret customer Natasha Ednan-Laperouse.

One group that has kept a close eye on developments in this space is YFood, a community and incubator for food tech start-ups.

“Personalisation of food is an area that we’ve been both tracking and raising the profile of over the last few years”, Nadia El Hadery, founder and chief executive of YFood said.

“We’ve seen this in the form of personalisation of flavour and texture preferences, weight and nutritional goals, allergens, experience and engagement, DNA and even your gut microbiome and more.

“As technology continues to evolve, personalisation in the food ecosystem will be become more and more accessible. It’s an incredibly powerful opportunity as ultimately we are what we eat and we are increasingly using our personal food choices to form part of our identity.

“It’s really exciting for us when we start to see recognised high street names, such as YO! Sushi embracing technologies and partnerships, with credible companies like DNAFit, and therefore bringing this opportunity to a wider audience. We’re only just starting to scratch the surface of personalisation in food, but continue to watch this space!”

One of the few other operators to take a tech-based solution to personalisation is Vita Mojo.

The business has two restaurants, though has now shifted its focus to its software platform, after receiving £10m funding from Investec Bank.

“We feel it’s a big deal that Yo! are jumping on this trend”, Nick Liddle, commercial director of Vita Mojo said.

“They have been award winning in this area, especially around their promotion and championing of vegan diets. This is a logical next step and demonstrates that Yo! are prepared to try and shake up the way their customers consider their food choices.”

Liddle praised YO! For being the first major chain to adopt the technology.

“If you’d said three to five years ago that consumers would make restaurant menu decisions based on their DNA profile, no-one would think it possible. Well here we are! It can be done and Yo! have been very brave in adopting this so early in its cycle in this way, this is what innovation looks like.

“This scheme seems to be just the start, and whilst relatively limited in it’s potential scale; it shines a light on the subject of personalisation via a much loved high street brand.”

What are consumers saying about personalisation?

MCA analysis has found a fifth of consumers (21%) would like to see more customisation of dishes to personalise meal choice.

While other research does not yet indicate a compelling requirement for personalisation in overall terms, it is believed to be of growing importance particularly among Millennials.

Steve Gotham, MCA’s director of insight, said: “Overall MCA’s consumer research does not suggest scope for personalisation is a highly compelling restaurant selection criteria currently – though it is of higher importance within certain healthier Millennial segments, and it is of growing importance – certainly as healthier eating evolves and becomes more bespoke to us individually.

“Full marks to YO! for pursuing this – it aligns well with much of their more adventurous and youthful customer base – and may well pull in some more experimental and new footfall. However, on the flipside, the initiative might be considered ahead of its time, might be better suited to the at-home market, and for some consumers, it might be deemed as potentially detracting from the treat/indulgence/leisure oriented essence of the eating out experience.”