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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Counting the calories via WhatsApp

A new online services helps busy executives easily monitor their calorie intake

Mauritius-born business/finance professional Veer Ramlugon
Mauritius-born business/finance professional Veer Ramlugon

The Food Analysts is “a human-powered calorie counting service”, through which health conscious users connect to nutrition expertise via WhatsApp, learning whether meals fit their dietary aspirations. Mauritius-born finance professional Veer Ramlugon, 34, explains why he founded the subscription-based service.

How did The Food Analysts come about?

I’m more often than not working late, travelling, eating out, and don’t always have time or resources to monitor my calorie intake myself. I’ve always been an avid fitness and healthy lifestyle advocate, maintained a relatively healthy lifestyle: gym regularly, trying to eat healthy. My personal trainer urged me to monitor the food I was eating, but it felt like a tedious task, and one I kept forgetting because I was always on the go. Logging food consumption every day, and breaking down restaurant meals into its macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, protein) became too much. I’ve used many food monitoring and tracking mobile apps, but they lacked a key element – convenience.

How does it work?

The Food Analysts acts as your personal food coach. Trained health professionals help subscribers keep track of daily diet and calorie intake, doing it on their behalf. It works purely with WhatsApp, 24/7. Part of the sign-up process is providing specifics such as weight, height, amount of physical activity, and your goal – such as weight loss, muscle building. This allows the team to advise how many calories you should be consuming each day, and how much of each macronutrient. Take a picture of any food, drink or meal you consume, and send along with a short description. Within minutes you’ll receive a response that includes a breakdown of that food – its level of protein, fats, carbs – as well as calories consumed, remaining for the day, percentages of daily allowances. This will help you decide your next meal. At the end of the day, a full report is shared with each person.

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So it is aimed at time-challenged people trying to eat well?

This service is perfect for people who want to know what they are consuming/should be consuming, on a daily basis and what they need in order to meet their nutrition and fitness goals. I effectively wanted to outsource this task to a dedicated team, with the aim of encouraging people to lead a healthy lifestyle in the most convenient way.

How did you go about setting it up?

I funded the business. It was a project I was passionate about and I knew there was a gap in the market. My work experience and financial background enabled me to plan properly and make good business decisions. It took about six months from scratch. I started by creating different holding companies and getting the necessary legal licenses. Next was acquiring nutrition data, which had to be done very precisely as this is the core of The Food Analysts. All nutrition data has been verified. Once done, I focused on recruiting the right people; the company had to be global and operational 24/7. Training took another two months before we officially launched in May this year. My team is made up of members with vast experience and training in food including nutritionists.

What type of people sign up?

Our target market includes people all over the world who lead very busy lifestyles. This can include business people who travel frequently and often dine in restaurants or hotels, or parents who work and take care of their children. These individuals do not have the time, nor the resources, to accurately and effectively monitor calorie and macronutrient intake on a daily basis. The majority of members are from the Middle East and India.

So the team is global?

I am based in Dubai, where the headquarters are, but the service is available anywhere. We have members of the team in locations including the UAE, UK and Mumbai, connected via our proprietary internal communication channels – including telephone and WhatsApp. Given the 24/7 nature of the service, a smooth handover of clients between time zones is crucial.

What has been the public reaction?

The service has been extremely well received. We have had to increase our staff and contractors by 35 per cent over the last two months. We currently have 2,500 subscribers, growing every day. Many are shocked at results they get. Many foods they consume are generally perceived as ‘healthy’, but are actually laced with calories. This was another big factor when developing the service, as many do not know how food is made up in terms of macronutrients and calories. They also don’t know how to correctly monitor daily calorie intake; our aim is to educate them. We often give tips on foods which are healthier or fit their macros better, depending on individual goals.

Are there plans to grow and diversify the business?

We’re already looking ahead to how we can expand our service and offer even more. We intend to roll out more analytics, which will help customers identify the strengths and weaknesses of their eating habits. While we already have customers in a number of countries - UAE, UK, India, USA, for example - we want to reach more people in countries all over the world. The vision is to be a catalyst for nutritional help on a global scale.