Nutracheck
01/09/2023

From Vision to Reality: The Nutracheck Story

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Nutracheck launched its calorie and nutrition tracking app and website back in 2005, at a time when Facebook was the only social media channel on the market and two years before the App Store was even launched. So how did Co-founders Tim Vryenhoef (MD), Rachel Hartley (Marketing and Communications Director) and Paul Cookson (CTO) come up with the idea for a nutrition and calorie counting app at a time when digital services were still in their infancy?

We wanted to hear about the story behind the award-winning app and asked Rachel Hartley to share Nutracheck´s success story.

I have just worked out in a matter of seconds the nutritional value of my breakfast this morning. Is the Nutracheck service that easy to use?

Yes! Nutracheck works by giving customers an individual insight into their food choices and eating habits. You just track what you eat – there is no special diet to follow, or complicated 'points' system. The app gives customers the calorie and nutrient value of food. Our aim is to provide the information people need to make sustainable changes that are personal to them - it's educational and empowering. It works because it's simple".

Nutracheck was launched in 2005. When was the idea born? 

Tim Vryenhoef (Founder & Nutracheck MD) had the vision back in 1999, more than 20 years ago. Tim’s idea was to link the barcodes on a food product to its nutritional information. Thus, enabling people to scan a food product and track their diet. There was nothing like this on the market at the time. Tim was a real visionary. He found a device – a small pen – containing a barcode reader. You could point it at a barcode, and it would display the information on a small screen. We had researched this scanning pen idea in 2001. People loved the idea of a portable device to track their diet, but the retail price of £150 was too high.

So, we needed a different way forward and our concept shifted to using a mobile phone. It was the perfect solution – the customer already owned the expensive hardware, all they needed to do was download our software. However, there was a limitation. The camera technology in mobile phones at that time wasn’t yet good enough to read a barcode – which was central to the Nutracheck proposition. So, we came up with a workaround. A user could type in the last 4 digits of a barcode and the programme displayed a shortlist of six items. Not perfect, but it narrowed down the search for the user.

When the iPhone launched in 2007, this was a game-changer. The camera technology enabled us to extend our customer proposition and made the whole barcode scanning process possible. The App Store launched in 2008, providing the marketplace for our software. And the next big growth opportunity came in 2017 when Apple allowed UK developers to start advertising in the UK App Store (previously only available in the US).

How did you deliver the first version of the Nutracheck app?

The very first version of the Nutracheck app was delivered via a Java programme which people installed on their phones. Back in 2005, the only programmes people were downloading were games, so Nutracheck got saved under ‘Games’ as that was the only category that existed!

How important is the food database to the Nutracheck proposition?

It is a critical part of the service. People search for the foods they’ve eaten and add them to their diary. In 2005, there were no UK food product databases linked to barcodes on the market. There was nothing we could buy or license, so we built our own. It was an incredibly manual and laborious process, involving many hours of work. We got permission to visit supermarkets, where we scanned individual food items with a hand-held scanner. By the time we launched in February 2005, we had a database of 30,000 products and were the first UK’s first combined mobile and online diet service. We won three awards for innovation.

We know the world of technology has changed significantly. What about Nutracheck´s customers?

The digital marketplace has completely transformed since we launched, and health and fitness apps have carved out a fast-growing sector. What customers wanted ten to 20 years ago has also changed. They want to make their own decisions and use the app in a way that suits them – greater customisation.

Nutracheck has a broad demographic appeal, so our members span a wide scale of technical know-how – from those who’ve grown up with technology to others who are just mastering how to use their iPad. So, we need to make sure our app is intuitive.

What have your customers taught you about app development over the years? 

People hate change! We discovered early on, that when you are introducing a new feature or giving the app a refresh, you can’t just randomly move buttons or functions around just because it might look nicer from a design perspective. But what you think is a minor change can be extremely annoying for a user who interacts with the app intensively. Be cautious and test first! You need the users on board with any changes, it can’t solely be a design-led decision.

How has the Nutracheck service grown since the early days?

You have to keep evolving and to keep listening to where the market is. We started off tracking calories and fat. Then customers wanted macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat and protein), so we added that. Then fibre, so we included that too. The result is that the Nutracheck app now has a much broader appeal. We have to keep evolving.

Mental health is a big topic these days. How does this tie into the idea of calorie counting?

We are very careful how we position our service when advertising, as we do not want to attract younger users – Nutracheck is not available to anyone under 18.

Our message is about health, understanding your diet and being the best version of yourself. The app shows protein, carbohydrates, fat, saturated fat, sugar, salt and fibre too. We encourage people to look at the nutritional make up of their overall diet – to choose nutrient-rich foods and not just to look at the calorie count – there’s a daily summary in the app to help users manage this.

The way we talk about weight loss is changing. There’s a lot more emphasis on wellness and losing excess weight to improve health rather than just appearance. Thankfully, one of the key influencers of body image, the fashion industry, is now embracing body diversity.

Why do you think Nutracheck has been so successful?

Quality, and an obsession with detail. We have strived to be the very best in everything we do. As a result, we’ve tended to make life harder for ourselves! One of my favourite sayings is ‘the value is in the difficulty’. If it was easy, everyone would do it!

Nutracheck:

Nutracheck is the UK's leading nutrition platform, helping its 400,000 premium subscribers improve their wellbeing through online weight management services and nutritional information. Nutracheck is one of the largest digital subscription apps in the UK, with more UK digital members than WW (Weight Watchers). Nutracheck became part of Immediate Media Co, Burda's UK media company, in November 2022.

 

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More images & downloads

Tim Vryenhoef demonstrating how the Nutracheck app worked back in the early days of mobile phone use on an old Motorola © Nutracheck

The snapshot shows the three founders at the Nutracheck press launch event, held at Nottingham © Nutracheck

Nutracheck has remained true to its core proposition - a mobile dietary tracking service. Early example of the search result for McDonalds Coca-Cola nutrition data © Nutracheck

The Evening Post in Nottingham, one of many UK newspapers articles that followed the launch of the innovative new weight service in February 2005 © Nutracheck

The barcode scanning pen, which encapsulated the original Nutracheck concept of scanning food to track your diet © Nutracheck

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