This Health Startup Plans to Challenge the Multibillion-Dollar Diet Industry

Mar 14, 2017

Food entrepreneur Neil Grimmer wants Americans to stop bingeing on fad diets.

“Instead of pulling a New York Times bestseller diet book off the shelf and giving it a go, people need to understand there may be an answer locked inside of them,” Grimmer says. “We’ve just lost the ability to listen.”

With the help of a $32 million investment from Campbell Soup, Grimmer founded Habit, a San Francisco nutrition startup selling a $299 at-home test kit, which crunches a person’s unique biological data to produce individually tailored food recommendations. “I believe the future of food is highly personalized,” Grimmer says.

The Habit test aims to discover how the body handles carbs, fats, and proteins by asking users to fast for 10 hours and then consume a dense, nutrient-rich shake. Habit then uses blood samples and DNA from a cheek swab to glean details on glucose levels and obesity-related genes, among other factors that could affect metabolism. Results—stored on a secure, cloud-based server—are emailed after a few weeks, and a customer gets one of seven different “habit” recommendations.

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Grimmer is a “protein seeker,” meaning he needs to eat more protein and consume fewer carbs, according to Habit. The test said he is also lactose intolerant and has issues processing caffeine.

Meanwhile, I lucked out genetically. Habit says I’m a “range seeker.” Roughly 50% of my daily intake should come from carbs, 30% from fat, and 20% from protein—a fairly balanced diet. I have no issues with lactose or caffeine.

On top of the revenue generated from the test, Habit also sells nutritional coaching sessions and a meal-kit service tailored to an individual’s biology. My meals would be filled with ingredients like lentils, salmon, raspberries, and almonds—all recommendations based on what my gut can process effectively. That’s a different approach from trying a trendy diet like South Beach or Paleo in the hope of shedding some pounds.

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Grimmer has been on a personal foodie quest since going vegan as a teen. He later leaned on carbs to fuel training as an Ironman triathlete, but his diet veered toward extremes. In 2007 he cofounded Plum Organics, a fast-growing children’s food brand that was later sold to Campbell Soup for $249 million.

While running Plum to make healthy foods for kids, including his two daughters, Grimmer gained 50 pounds. After seeking out a personal nutrition assessment, he followed a food plan based on his own biology and shed 25 pounds within six months.

Habit, he says, is a way to democratize that process: “When we look back on this period of time when we thought we should all eat the same things, we will view that as the dark ages of nutrition.”

A version of this article appears in the March 15, 2017 issue of Fortune with the headline "Digital Diet."

In the magazine version of this article, we misspelled Neil Grimmer's name. We have corrected the spelling in the online version. We regret the error.

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