THE FUTURE OF FOOD – AI

Artificial intelligence, it’s said, is going to be central to the future of food and food development.

With AI’s power to analyze data quickly and spot trends, the process is being used more and more in a variety of ways – including developing new fashions, songs and ads.  And, there are the beginnings of AI being used in the creative production of food – new flavors, new combinations. McCormick, Conagra Brands, and PepsiCo are some of the food companies using AI to assist them in cooking up new concepts such as bourbon pork-tenderloin seasoning and pudding flavors meant to call to mind unicorns (ref WSJ).  AI can sift through large numbers of ingredient combinations quickly to offer outside-the-box suggestions that human developers might have otherwise overlooked.  The AI technology can also look at current taste trends to figure out what customers favor as well as to predict what they’ll want in the future.  The push to use AI assistance in developing new products and new tastes comes in response to the intense pressure that food conglomerates face in a crowded marketplace.  The companies in the past have relied on research and development practices that were time-consuming and lengthy. But now that consumer tastes are changing faster than ever, the time has apparently come to bring on AI technologies to scope those out as well as to produce new tastes and combinations for the future.  AI can speed up the trial-and-error processes of research development by suggesting new flavor combinations.  McCormick, for example recently joined with IBM to crunch data on ingredients, trial recipes and the reaction of taste testers to create new seasoning combinations.  McCormick has 10,000 components in its product line, and it’s hoping that AI can assist in cutting a traditional development process of a year by 70%.  Given the possibilities for the future, the AI processes won’t eliminate the need for humans in the development equation any time soon – the algorithms still need human oversight to make sure that the suggestions taste good.  A challenge for the future is explained by an IBM researcher who says that food companies have invested less in artificial intelligence than other industries because taste is so personal and complex – “the science of flavor is not so well understood,” (ref WSJ).

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