When it comes to cuisine, the relationship between art and science is not just something cooked up by bespectacled TV chefs in the 2010s. The first mention of “gratifying the sight” of foods appears in The Forme of Cury back in the mid 14th Century and this symbiosis has been at the forefront of nearly every gastronomic development since.
About three paces behind each human-powered technological innovation, there’s a foodie, chef or artisan seeking to harness its potential in order to produce the most exquisite delicacy. Anyone can add rennet to milk to create curds, but the art lies in the cheesemaker who’s skills turn the basic chemical reaction into an either truly brilliant Roquefort or Shropshire Blue.
This concept of science augmenting the skills of the artisan is now being applied to Artificial Intelligence and its role in shaping and creating the things we eat. One does not replace the other, more that it’s simply the latest in a long line of technologies that deliver progress.
How food brands and retailers really start to harness the agility that the technology offers, in all areas of their business, is something 6 Seeds is leading the way on.
Becoming an “Artisan of AI”
“An AI doesn’t think. It doesn’t cook with emotion or love. It doesn’t get triggered by the smell of grandma's baking in the Aga, or why the necessity to triple cook chips might be required to achieve a fluffier inside with a superior outer crunch”.
The importance of the 80/20 rule
At 6 Seeds we often talk to clients about how generative and predictive AI, no matter where deployed, gets you 80% there. Applying Pareto’s principle here is a great heuristic.
The human in the loop will and should remain the additional 20%, be that as an operator of the AI, a safety net against anything erroneous or the person at the end of the fork. We are the humans the technology is built to serve.
We need to direct the course of Artificial Intelligence. In our world that means as Food Pioneers. I am sure there’s someone doing exactly the same in sports marketing right now, but improving fan engagement isn’t our forte. This is about food.
As Food Pioneers we will exhaustively continue to test and learn by having a seat at the table at the forefront of innovation, working with adventurous partners, including Waitrose and Tastewise.
Watching from the sidelines is not an option, deciding where to go next is.
We look at AI and its application for every part of a modern food system. Bettering our understanding of regenerative agricultural practices, reducing food waste, removing surplus from supply chains to help retailers and brands make the right choices at shelf edge, by deciphering the attention-driven economy in which we humans now exist.
We know the global food system is broken. We know it will take the smartest of minds and the best technology and innovation to fix. We know that with any problem, we are at our best as a species when we work together as a combined intelligence with an artificial one by our side.
How AI is Cooking Up a Storm in the Food World
In the food and beverage industry, the challenges for entrepreneurs and established brands alike are as diverse as the opportunities.
From the rise of challenger brands trying to carve a niche in a saturated market, to established brands missing the mark with newly developed products, the need for accurate insights and a seamless ecosystem has never been more pronounced.
AI has the potential to eliminate multiple pain points here, not just in product creation, but also in business strategy and ecosystem connectivity, reducing friction with distributors and retailers as well as increasing both product and messaging relevancy for consumers. Agility is a key benefit.
Product Market Fit is essential
A staggering 85% of challenger brands fail within 5 years. Of these, 47% do so because they don't achieve product market fit, they develop and sell products that not enough people want to buy.
Many of these brands are driven by innovative ideas and a passion for change rather than solid market insight. More often than not, they find themselves hamstrung by a lack of actionable insights.
How AI can help
In a world where data-driven insight often means the difference between success and failure, these young brands often lack both the resources and the expertise to create actionable data- based strategies.
Here AI can be a game-changer, providing deep insights into consumer preferences, market trends, and even potential pitfalls.
By predicting which flavours might become the next big thing, or identifying underserved market segments, AI can guide challenger brands in their product development and marketing strategies, significantly reducing the margin of error.
Even giants get it wrong
But even the giants of the F&B industry aren't immune to missteps. A surprisingly large percentage of new products either launch too soon, too late, or simply don't resonate with their intended target audience. Starbucks bet big on their Protein Cold Brew, only to discontinue it within months of launch. Campbell's millennial-focused Go Soup range never took off with the intended audience.
These missteps are hugely costly, both in terms of financial investment and brand reputation.
Again, AI can come to the rescue. By analysing historical data, current market trends, and consumer preferences, AI can offer insights that can guide these brands in their NPD as well as their marketing strategies.
For instance, if a particular ingredient is gaining traction or if there's a growing demand for a specific type of cuisine, AI can alert brands to these trends in real-time, allowing them to capitalise on opportunities or pivot their strategies accordingly.
But wait, there’s more
The potential of AI in the F&B industry isn't limited to product development and marketing. One of the most significant challenges the industry faces is the disconnect between the stages of the food supply chain, from soil to fork.
This results in inefficiencies, wastage, and missed opportunities. For instance, a bumper crop of tomatoes in a particular region might go to waste because retailers several states away are unaware of this surplus.
AI has the potential to bridge these gaps. By creating a connected ecosystem where data flows seamlessly between farmers, distributors, retailers and even consumers, AI can ensure that supply meets demand in the most efficient way possible.
Real-time intelligence powering a connected food system
Imagine a system where farmers get real-time updates on projected yield and market demand, allowing them to adjust their cultivation practices or pricing strategies. Or a platform where retailers can source products based on real-time availability and consumer demand, reducing wastage and ensuring fresher produce on the shelves. Startups around the world are working on solving these challenges, turning yesterday’s science fiction into today’s reality.
AI driven efficiencies to benefit the planet
This AI-driven connectivity can help us create a more sustainable and equitable food ecosystem. By providing insights into sustainable farming practices that yield better results or by connecting farmers directly to consumers, thereby eliminating middlemen, AI can ensure that farmers are rewarded adequately for their efforts.
On the consumer side, this connected ecosystem can lead to more choices, fresher produce, and better prices.
AI powered solutions are within reach
While the challenges facing the F&B industry are many, the solutions, powered by AI, are within reach. From providing challenger brands with the insights they need to thrive, guiding established brands in their NPD strategies, to repairing the broken food ecosystem, AI holds the key to a more efficient, sustainable, and prosperous F&B industry.
With AI as our ally, the horizon of food innovation is not just promising—it's boundless.
Kate Burns is CEO and Founder of 6 Seeds, the technology backed consultancy and creative ventures business, helping to build the future of food.
6 Seeds works globally with CPG brands, retailers and food businesses from field to fork and has offices in both London, UK and Toronto, Canada. The Tastewise Generative AI Food Pioneers Summit in London, brings together some of Europe’s biggest food brands and retailers, including Kraft Heinz, Pepsico and Waitrose & Partners.