From reality to virtuality: the NUTRIBOX e-commerce platform guides vulnerable consumers in making safe and healthy food choices

With support from the EITFood program, researchers from ISPA-CNR developed the NUTRIBOX e-commerce platform based on safe and nutritionally balanced virtual shelves to increase consumer protection and to guide vulnerable people in making safe and mindful food choices.      

 

After the pandemic: changes in eating habits and new challenges to consumer health    

The global spread of the SARS-CoV-2 betacoronavirus and the subsequent limitations to daily life, including confinement orders, has changed the overall habits of consumers and accelerated the transition towards digitalization. E-commerce platforms and digital tools capable of improving supply chain efficiency and safety have proliferated. The pandemic has also significantly impacted consumer behaviors (e.g. increased tobacco and alcohol use, increased consumption of “comfort foods”, physical inactivity) that have increased non-communicable disease (NCD) occurrence even as millions have fallen ill from Covid-19 (Kluge et al. 2020).  

Food and diet play a pivotal role in personal wellbeing (Bleich et al. 2015). Attention to food safety and quality as well as the composition of food commodities that contain beneficial and/or bioactive components have grown recently (Galanakis et al. 2020). In addition to an increasing interest in online and lower-priced foods with greater shelf life (Ellison et al. 2021), some consumers have shifted in their food-linked perceptions and preferences and have moved towards healthier options and personalized nutrition. These consumers are choosing foods that protect the immune system and provide other benefits by adhering to overall healthier diets and by consuming foods enriched with bioactive ingredients like vitamins and folate, polysaccharides and dietary fiber, lipids, peptides, and natural polyphenols (Galanakis et al. 2020). These bioactive compounds can be found in fruits and vegetables, the consumption of which is highly recommended. According to a recent survey, 72% of European shoppers are eager to change their eating behavior by turning to healthier and sustainable choices (FMCC Gurus 2020); there is also an increasing interest in animal protein alternatives and products packaged in bio-packaging or produced by green processes without the addition of chemical preservatives (clean label) (Galanakis et al. 2020).      

The NUTRIBOX project: The HEALTHY & SMART EATHINKING platform to offer safe and healthy food choices to vulnerable consumers  

Despite the increasing attention in recent years to the relationship between health and diet, specific segments of consumers (e.g. those with dietary restrictions) have not been adequately considered while few food producers have prioritized the nutritional or functional value of food components or the sustainability of manufacturing processes. To meet the needs of consumers confined in their homes by quarantine, several solutions based on e-commerce platforms have been proposed and commercialized, although in most cases they provide scant information about the food items sold (e.g. brand, price, amount, label), which limits healthier and conscientious choices.  

EIT recently provided ISPA-CNR funding to develop an innovative e-commerce platform called NUTRIBOX Eathinking to fill the gap between what the food industry provides a


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