October 13, 2019

How Will New Technologies Impact the Food and Beverage Industry?

"Our preferences, and taste, for food are not as static as they seem," explains a report produced by The Economist Intelligence Unit. "But some combinations do tend to stick. Is there a science behind taste and what we find appealing?"

Sponsored by The Japan Food Product Overseas Promotion Center (JFOODO), The science behind taste: impact on the food and beverage industry of a better understanding of the human palate is a report that "explores how new technologies, new lifestyles and scientific research have contributed to new understandings of the human palate. Better insight may dispel long-held beliefs about which tastes work best together, leading to new pairings which may not only taste better together, but are also healthier. This could not only indicate new opportunities for the food and beverage industry but also challenge these traditional industries to adjust their product development and business strategies."

The key takeaways of the report are:
  • How technology is informing our tastebuds: technologies such as machine learning are being developed to deal with the complexity and variety of data in the food industry and our very own taste buds. New technologies inform some of the biggest consumer companies on taste preferences to adequately meet consumer needs.
  • How technologies are helping society explore new taste, and new combinations of taste: new technologies have also enabled companies to extract different aromas from food ingredients, and digitize them, to make entirely new flavors and food products—as well as revealing non-traditional combinations of food ingredients that will go well together.
  • New technologies have the potential to contribute to improve our food waste issues: Algorithms such as Consumer Flavor Intelligence inform major companies to optimize food production, by meeting the preferences of the larger consumers, helping them to reduce waste and/or over-production. Artificial intelligence (AI) and big data have also been instrumental in giving consumers awareness of where and how their food ingredients have been grown, while giving producers more precise forecasting models of supply and demand.
  • Globalization and the homogenized diet: as people travel more and are exposed to a wider range of food through various media, we are eating a more homogenized diet no matter where we live, which is straining resources. Therefore, supporting global diversity in tastes while keeping food systems sustainable is becoming a significant challenge.
  • New scientific findings will continue to redefine our optimal diet going forward: the more we develop an understanding of our palate, the more it becomes apparent that taste preferences relate to numerous factors such as sensitivity thresholds, learning, genetics, nutritional deficiencies, and early exposure to certain foods.
  • The new ordinary: new information about food ingredients and taste not only confirm the obvious ways to consume food, but also predict new and less expected ingredient pairings. There is creativity in blending human and artificial intelligence, which may open many more doors in how we could taste and perceive food in future.
In addition, the report presents the following conclusion:
Today, data analytics and AI tell us about what we prefer and why. Our lifestyle and travel preferences also have an impact on our diet and what we choose to eat, and the choice ultimately remains with us. However, what we do not have control over, where our food comes from, and how it was fished, farmed or caught, is where science can help by giving us the reassurance of digitally tracking provenance.
By monitoring consumer preferences, companies are able to accurately meet consumer needs, thereby avoiding food waste. Moreover, it also allows for new and more innovative ways to sell products, while providing access to healthier foods and more balanced diets.
We, as a species, are still evolving. While we remain unconsciously and genetically open to the five taste profiles of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savory, our conscious palates, driven by consumer trends and external forces, have evolved to enjoy other flavors and pairings not known by our ancestors.
And in tandem, machines are working to develop new tastes and flavors that seek to mimic the choices we make ourselves. The next time you're browsing the aisles of your local grocery store, that tasty-looking pasta sauce you sling in your basket may have been the product of the latest in AI working in harmony with the human brain.
How do you think AI will influence your next dining experience?

Aaron Rose is an advisor to talented entrepreneurs and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.

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