Things are starting to get futuristic in the food industry. In the last couple of months, we’ve seen the successful production of beef in space, the introduction of vertical farming units in multiple Marks & Spencer stores and even a prediction from Mintel forecasting that, in the year 2025, we will start to see consumption of red meat become taboo.
Artificial intelligence is also getting better and more relevant. According to global insights firm CMFEI, artificial intelligence in the food and beverages market will increase by a compound annual growth rate of 50% between 2019 and 2025.
Just this week, electronics giant Sony announced plans to set up an arm to focus on the research and development of AI across a range of industries, including gastronomy, across Japan, Europe and the US.
Sony have been dabbling in food and AI since 2018, with initial research and development conducted with Carnegie Mellon University looking into “optimizing food preparation, cooking and delivery.”
"AI and robotics will not replace chefs,” said Sony spokesman Shinichi Tobe of the new Sony AI venture.
“We are aiming to offer new tools to expand their creativity with AI and robotics. The field of food requires a study of molecular structures. By using AI and its analytical capacity, we can create new things. It involves taste, but also aroma. Through sensing technologies, we can perhaps create new dishes that will please the human sense of taste.”
‘It’s no longer science fiction’
“The world of high-tech algorithms has a huge potential to bring value to operators big and small, as today’s AI brings with it the capability to spot patterns in immense pools of data, often on a scale that cannot be matched by humans alone,” Dave Coplin, formerly chief envisioning officer for Microsoft UK and now a leading figure in the discussion about technology and society, tells Food Spark.
“Organisations desperately need to understand the incredible power (and potential disruption) this capability will bring because it’s no longer science fiction, but is instead a very real technology already being used with huge success in both retail and hospitality – not just in helping to save operators money, but crucially to help them grow their revenue as well as enhance their service to customers.”
AI has caught the attention of the world’s largest restaurant chain, McDonald’s: this year, the fast-food giant acquired two artificial-intelligence-focused start-ups as it looks to utilise large-scale consumer data to personalise experiences.
McDonald’s will initially apply this tech to their drive-through arm, allowing digital menus to adapt to a variety of influences, from weather and traffic to trending product orders and previous order history.
Coplin says that insight is one of the main benefits of AI and that generating an “exhaust trail” of information to be translated into consumer data can fuel both business growth and product innovation.
“If you want to gain insight as to which of your products are driving the most revenue, or which experiences are the most popular, you need to start collecting the data,” continues Coplin.
“If you’re successful in using technology to streamline or automate some of your existing processes, you are freeing up your people to do what they do best, which is to provide great service to your customers that will mean they keep coming back for more.”
The Kerry Group are another recent champion of artificial intelligence, having unveiled its Trendspotter predictive tool last month. This system uses an algorithm based on consumer data to predict upcoming food trends – something that PepsiCo are also trying to do with their 360 Always On Trend Engine.