Digital disruption is affecting nearly every industry, from financial services to healthcare — and the food and beverage sector is no exception. Historically, flavor profiles, trends and new food products have largely been attributed to chefs and product developers, and it would take months or years before an idea could be translated into a product and introduced to the market.
In more recent years, however, the answer to the next big food or flavor trend has had less to do with humans and more with the power of big data and artificial intelligence (AI), which learns and mimics human behavior by collecting and analyzing millions of data sets concurrently.
So how does harnessing technology translate into the next flavor or trend? As an example, spice company McCormick partnered with IBM in 2019 to leverage AI to predict new flavor combinations. This was achieved by analyzing data from millions of data sources in order to revamp McCormick’s “Flavor Forecast.” The result: a steady influx of new flavor profiles with consumer appeal that McCormick’s in-house product developers wouldn’t typically conceive on their own.
Another use case example is Aromyx, a company that digitizes human taste and smell. It develops biosensors that “create digital representations of smell sensory data” that can be used for consumer-packaged goods, agriculture and more. The interest in and demand for its technology resulted in closing a $3 million investment last year.
And Foodpairing is one of the largest online food and ingredient databases in the world, which leverages machine learning to recommend new food and drink combinations to chefs and bartenders and help food companies determine which flavor they should launch next.
These are just a few examples of companies that are harnessing the powers of AI and consumer data to create new trends and reach new customer segments. So what does this mean for the future of the food and beverage sector? There’s no doubt that big data and AI provide ample opportunities for innovation. Leveraging AI enables brands to:
• Access higher quality data quickly and with more precision than a human ever could. AI eliminates many of the errors and biases that can stem from human-led research and data collection. And while manual data collection can take weeks or months, tech-enabled data analysis can provide insights in mere hours.
• Harness rich insights and consumer feedback to respond to evolving consumer preferences and demands in real time. With consumers continuously seeking out cutting-edge products and new, unexpected flavor profiles, AI is truly a game-changer that can help brands stay ahead of trends.
• Virtualize the entire market research process. This includes testing concepts and ideas with AI-powered personas — who have the attributes of your target audience — before introducing them to the market. This allows brands to course-correct and refine their products as needed.
• Complement the efforts of in-house market researchers and product developers, freeing up their time to focus on more value-added tasks while providing them with insights that will help them predict the next food trend or product.
• Enhance privacy measures by eliminating human interaction with sensitive information or data.
• Maximize existing budgets, increase revenue and enhance brand profitability over the short term and long term.
As new technologies continue to enter the fold, food and beverage players that want to stay ahead of the competition, reach new customers, and remain profitable would be wise to implement AI and machine learning into their market research and product development strategies now. The risks of not doing so are too great to ignore.