Artificial intelligence and food may seem strange bedfellows at first glance, but a number of companies are proving that they get along smashingly. We’re going to take a look at the way different AI is boosting food and drink innovation. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but an indicator that AI is a game-changer for the food industry.
Inefficient manufacturing processes that impact yield, quality, power, food waste, and other issues can be an expensive affair for companies. AI is being used in such cases to identify issues in the chain and cut down on these costs.
Seebo, an Israeli startup, focuses mainly on problems of production waste. The company uses its AI platform to help food companies identify process efficiencies during manufacturing and ultimately reduce waste. It gathers data related to raw materials, production lines, and quality results, which helps the algorithms identify where along the line efficiencies occur. Once identified, appropriate recommendations are made to solve the issue.
Japanese beverages company Suntory is trialing an AI solution from Fujitsu to check if its products have been damaged during shipping to stored. If the contents in the products are damaged, they need to be returned to and replaced by Suntory. But checking to see whether the damage is just on outer box or contents have also been damaged has traditionally been a manual and time-consuming task for stores. The AI is expected to help Suntory trace how and where the products are damaged. The beverage maker’s goal is to bring down the return of goods by 30-50% as well as cut overall food waste.
A number of Japanese companies are looking to AI to deal with the issue of food waste. Government data indicates that 6 million tons of food is wasted in the country at a cost of around JP¥2 trillion (US$19 billion) every year.
Fruit harvesting is heavily dependent on human fruit pickers – seasonal and migratory workers, often specializing in this area. Even before COVID travel restrictions were put in place by all countries, labor shortages were on the rise for this sector. Fresh produce needs to be harvested and sold in time.
To address this problem, Israeli company Tevel Aerobotics Technologies has launched a flying autonomous robot (a drone) that uses
- AI perception algorithms to locate fruit trees
- Vision algorithms to find fruit among the foliage and classify its size and ripeness.
The drone calculates the best approach to the fruit and remains stable as its arm grabs hold of the fruit.
These robots are not intended to replace workers only to complement them, according to the company. Across countries, seasonal agricultural workers are just not enough to fill the millions of farm jobs.
It isn’t just at the farms and supply chains where waste occurs. A significant amount occurs at grocery stores, particularly in the fresh food aisles. The biggest conundrum for grocery stores is finding the balance between their fresh food is available at the appropriate time while bringing down losses from disposing older food.
San Francisco-based Afresh Technologies is an AI-based grocery optimization platform that specifically focuses on the issues of fresh food. Grocery optimization tools have been around for a while, but most of them are linked to products that can be scanned using a bar code. Fresh food is constantly changing based on season, availability, and even units of measurement. Afresh’s tool uses AI to predict future demand based on past trends and other metrics like how perishable an item may be and current inventory, among others. This can help supermarkets better plan their fresh food stock while minimizing waste.
A number of companies are also using AI to boost food and drink innovation process by fuelling discovery during their research and development process.
Chilean alternative protein company NotCo uses its AI platform Giuseppe to go through both public and its own proprietary datasets to find plant-based ingredients as well as processing combinations that can help imitate the features of real meat or dairy. Getting the taste and texture right are primary concerns for meat analog companies. NotCo’s product portfolio includes milk, mayonnaise, burgers, and ice cream, all of which are plant-based.
Another Chilean company, The Live Green Co, uses its recommendation software Charaka to profile the artificial, animal-based, and highly processed elements of everyday food. The AI tool then finds plant-based alternatives to replace these elements based on plant nutrition and biotechnology. This process is said to take just a fraction of the time and money for R&D. The company’s product portfolio includes clean and plant-based burger mixes, pancake mixes, spice mixes, and ice cream.
Flavor giant Givaudan has launched an in-house AI tool to streamline end-to-end recipe creation and reduce the time spent in iterative trial and error. Called Advanced Tools for Modeling (or ATOM), the tool considers the product requirements and uses data science to provide concepts and direction for formulation.
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And to leave you with a final use case that made me wonder if it’s the end of sommeliers as we know them…
Colombia-based Demetria is using AI to automatically analyze a coffee bean’s flavor, aroma, and a whole host of other features. It uses near infra-red sensors to analyze green coffee beans for biochemical markers and uses its AI tool to match the bean profile to industry standard flavors. This will allow growers to assess the quality of their coffee at any stage of the production and get a fair price for it.
Ranjana works as the Lead Research Analyst for Spoonshot. Her past experience includes working with a major global market research company, specializing in food and drink trends. She has also worked with major publications as a writer and editor.