Food as Medicine:

Food as Medicine:

Exploring the promise and challenges of taking a nutrition-first approach to health

At Listen, we’ve long been bullish on investing in shifting consumer relationships with food. This conviction is what drove us to invest in brands like Factor, Rise Gardens, and The Fresh Factory — as consumers demand greater ingredient transparency and uncompromising freshness when it comes to how they fueled their bodies.

As we look ahead, we shift our gaze to the next tipping point in the consumer-food relationship — one that’s evolving against the backdrop of a growing epidemic of diet-related chronic disease. In the US, only 6.8% of adults have optimal cardiometabolic health, in part due to poor dietary habits.1 Each year, poor diets cause more than 300k deaths from cardiovascular disease and diabetes1 and cost the US $1.72 trillion or 9.3% of total GDP.2 All of this, in spite of significant growth in recent years of the global pharmaceutical industry, estimated at $1.48 trillion in 2022.3

How can such staggering results sustain such staggering investment? This tension indicates that the reactive, pharmacological approach alone is not working — patients and providers alike are calling for more proactive, preventive healthcare, though US infrastructure is slow to change and incentives remain more aligned to treating than preventing sickness.

But with systems-level problems comes the opportunity for systems-level impact and returns. And, after months of multi-modal research with consumers, founders, and experts, we feel strong conviction that the next frontier in food is Food as Medicine, and we’re excited to share some of our research and conviction with you. Read on to hear about our research — or download the full report.

Food as Medicine:

I first heard this quote from an MPH candidate at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. I had just kicked off what would become a three-month ethnographic deep-dive into Food as Medicine, a behavior shift that prioritizes food and diet in a person’s health plan, with the goal of either preventing, reducing symptoms of, or reversing a disease state.4

What Berry’s quote suggests, and what our research confirmed, is that for the vast majority of US consumers, the very notion of “Food as Medicine” is oxymoronic. Our food systems and medical systems both seem to fall short of their mandates to keep us nourished and healthy. We wondered what magic might be hiding in the liminal space and what role a strong consumer brand — able to bridge both science and psyche — might have to play at this intersection.

This question led to an immersive exploration of how the tension between “food” and “medicine” plays out in the hearts, minds, and bodies of US consumers today. This work aimed to understand at the individual-level what behavioral nuances were contributing to unhealthy eating patterns — and where there might be opportunity for consumer-obsessed innovation.

In the full report, we share key insights on consumer behavior generated by this work, as well as an opportunity framework for investing or brand-building in this space.

The consumer perspectives shared here are informed by 25 ethnographic, in-context interviews and home tours through the fridges, freezers, and pantries of consumers across the US. Our conversations focused primarily on consumers diagnosed (or at risk of being diagnosed) with at least one diet-related chronic condition, including diabetes, heart disease, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), just to name a few. To help us contextualize these consumer perspectives, we also tapped into the expertise of providers (representing both Western and Eastern medicine practices), payors, founders, and industry and government leaders.

Interested in learning more? Download the full report — and sign up to receive our quarterly(ish) consumer insights reports direct to your inbox.

Food as Medicine:

About this series: Consumer-Obsessed is a series of research deep-dives on behavior shifts that we believe are at a tipping point — and that we, as Listen, feel particularly inspired to invest against.

Through this work, we tap into the perspectives of experts, founders — and, most importantly — consumers themselves to sharpen our point of view and turn our intellectual curiosities into investment conviction.

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