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The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and the National Retail Federation (NRF) have long been beacons for technological innovations, but their recent focus on health and food technologies marks a significant shift that we need to embrace. This year’s conferences showcased groundbreaking advancements that have the potential to revolutionize healthcare and nutrition, underscoring the increasing convergence of technology and health.

NRF launched its first ever Foodservice Innovation Zone underscoring the industry’s desire to support Americans’ health and wellness and culinary journey. As health professionals, it’s crucial to stay abreast of these developments. These innovations not only herald new tools for shoppers, but also promise to reshape the landscape of health management and dietary practices.

Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions and Incisiv just issued their 2024 State of the Industry: Innovation in Retail report that included surveying 138 U.S. and Canadian and 100 Latin American retailers and found that only 3% considered themselves leaders when compared to cross-industry leaders. It’s a dismal finding at best, especially in light that 65% of retailers in the U.S. and Canada stated that their leadership is committed to innovation. Which is why paying attention to and understanding the implications of the new innovative products showcased at CES and NRF is critical for the grocery and health and wellness industries. 

The proliferation of wearable technologies at CES continuous on its journey, ranging from advanced fitness trackers to biometric monitoring devices, highlighting the growing trend in personalized healthcare. These gadgets offer real-time health monitoring, enabling both patients and healthcare providers to track vital health metrics like heart rate, blood oxygen levels and even stress levels. The implications for preventative medicine from retailers are immense. But this year at CES, tech moved into the home kitchen with Chef Moto (from Motley Robotics) which is capable of prepping and cooking gourmet and personalized dietary preference meals from scratch — look for Motley to have a quick roll-out first in food service, followed by a partnership with high-end home builders who specialize in upscale communities for Baby Boomers. Voke Restaurant showcased a virtual reality dining experience, building on Albertsons’ recent metaverse experiment. 

Both conferences emphasized the importance of telehealth innovations. Remote monitoring tools and telehealth platforms are making healthcare more accessible, especially for shoppers and patients in remote or underserved regions. These technologies not only facilitate virtual consultations but also enable continuous monitoring of patients with chronic conditions, reducing the need for hospital visits and lowering healthcare costs. 

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are playing increasingly pivotal roles in diagnostic procedures. At CES and NRF, AI-driven tools are capable of providing faster and more accurate diagnoses than traditional methods. Kwikkart provides autonomous checkout for those third-party pickers and delivery services (who typically have double digit errors) to verify, through computer vision and AI that the customers’ correct items are being picked. These technologies, from AI-powered imaging to ML algorithms that detect anomalies in lab results, are set to transform diagnostic medicine, offering earlier intervention possibilities and personalized treatment plans. 

Exhibitors at NRF and CES showcased a range of technologies aimed at personalizing nutrition and diet management. From smart kitchen appliances like Brava that connects cookware to mobile devices that help in preparing healthy meals to apps that track nutritional intake and suggest dietary modifications, technology is making it easier for individuals to make informed food choices. DNA and Microbiome analysis from companies like Day Two and Nutrigene offer personalized meal plans based on a shopper’s unique genetic profile. These innovations can prove to be game changing and vital in combating lifestyle-related diseases like obesity and diabetes. The MoodUp refrigerator, in my opinion, is one technology that is searching for a reason to be. Supposedly the appliance analyzes the user’s emotions and adapts the lighting within the appliance and music to match one’s mood (all I want is a fridge that keeps the correct temperature for my produce)! 

With a growing focus on sustainability, both expos introduced several technologies aimed at reducing food waste and promoting eco-friendly food practices. Innovations in food preservation, plant-based meat alternatives and efficient food production techniques underscore the role technology plays in creating sustainable food systems. SML RFID unveiled its Clarity Food technology to help grocers measure food traceability, waste management, real-time tracking and best-before dates visibility. These advancements are critical in addressing global food security and environmental concerns. At CES, Plenty, the Southern California-based vertical farming company, showcased its sustainable cutting-edge indoor farming technologies that can be harvested on-site at supermarkets and restaurants, reducing transportation and environmental impact costs. Apeel Sciences also showcased its expansion of its edible coatings beyond avocados to extend the shelf life of a variety of fruits and vegetables. 

As health and wellness professionals, understanding and integrating these technologies into our practices is imperative. Wearable health tech and telehealth platforms, for instance, can augment our shoppers’ care, allowing for more personalized and efficient recommendations and dietary treatment strategies. Staying informed about these advancements enables us to guide our shoppers in making better health and dietary choices, leveraging these technologies for improved health outcomes. 

The NRF and CES conferences have once again demonstrated the dynamic nature of how our retail industry and brands can harness health and food technologies. As we forge ahead, it’s clear that these innovations will play a central role in shaping the future of healthcare and nutrition. For retail dietitians and health professionals, embracing these technologies is not just about keeping up with the trends; it’s about actively participating in a technological revolution that promises to enhance patient care, improve health outcomes and promote overall wellbeing. 

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