Global Insights Series: AI in the Food Industry

AI is receiving an increasingly warm reception across a range of industries and in public life. Despite naysayers and valid concerns over its capacity, it has become evident that AI will be an essential tool for industries moving forward. This global insight series will assess the influence that AI is having on the food and beverage industry, from production and marketing to innovation and consumer preferences. With AI expected to reach a market size of $53 billion AUD in the global food and beverage industry by 2028[1], it is fast becoming one of the most important and potentially valuable tools in the sector.

With AI expected to reach a market size of $53 billion AUD in the global food and beverage industry by 2028, it is fast becoming one of the most important and potentially valuable tools in the sector.

Production and Environment

At the start of the production process, AI is employed in numerous awe-inspiring ways, from plant gene-editing and future-proofing farming to pest control and quality assurance. Adverse weather conditions, such as drought and flooding brought about by climate change, are having catastrophic effects on food production. However, resilient innovators are designing solutions to these evolving problems, with AI proving to be an invaluable tool.

Firstly, AI assists researchers by running tests, scanning data, and producing analysis, saving an insurmountable amount of time. Secondly, AI is incorporated directly into solutions. For instance, Swiss food tech company Planetary and Japanese tech company Konica Minolta have made AI a central mechanism in their precision fermentation processes[2]. Meanwhile, the research project Nemo’s Garden is tackling soil salinity by designing AI-powered biospheres that allow plants to be grown under the ocean[3]. These futuristic innovations are only possible because of AI’s capability to streamline production, optimise processes, and rapidly understand and diagnose vast amounts of data.

On a more relatable scale, smart farming is widely accepted to boost productivity and reduce wastage, making it more sustainable for farmers, consumers, and the environment. Alongside climate change, our growing population pressures food production to maximise yields. AI is applied in myriad ways, including optimising irrigation systems, crop and soil monitoring, disease and pest detection, and intelligent pesticide application. For example, olive oil prices in the UK have soared, with prices over £15 in some supermarkets, due to a 55% decline in olive production in Spain and Greece caused by drought and disease[4]. AI interventions could help mitigate such losses and fortify the supply of key crops globally. In an increasingly uncertain agricultural landscape, AI offers confidence to farmers and helps mitigate losses across the production supply chain.

Product Development and Marketing

As we move along the supply chain to the product development stage, AI evolves from being highly technical to an essential tool in the toolkit. Many leading product developers believe that AI enhances product development capabilities by optimising processes and increasing innovation[5].

A significant criticism of AI is that it lacks the distinct creativity and empathy of humans. However, companies excelling in the food tech space apply AI technology alongside human creativity. For instance, industry leader Nestle and Israel-based Tastewise use AI for market, consumer, and trend analysis[6]. By scanning social media, recipe websites, and hundreds of thousands of restaurant menus, they produce a comprehensive 360-degree view of consumer preferences and tailor development strategies accordingly. Developers then use this detailed insight to develop products that directly respond to data-driven predictions of future consumer desires.

Not only does AI assist with providing factual guidance for development teams, but it also helps trial formulations much faster, calculating optimal ingredient inclusions. This frees up time for development teams to focus on creativity and ideation. By harnessing both AI and human creativity, companies can finalise new developments in a fraction of the time and to a much higher standard.

In a more abstract and futuristic application, AI can create virtual humans—characters that simulate reactions to hypothetical products based on consumer preferences[7]. These virtual humans provide teams with insights into potential pitfalls, the likelihood of market success, and early consumer reactions, helping guide development decisions.

By harnessing both AI and human creativity, companies can finalise new developments in a fraction of the time and to a much higher standard.

Tackling Key Concerns

Arguably, the two biggest concerns facing consumers right now are price and nutrition. AI tools can help companies and consumers tackle these problems in numerous ways. For example, companies like Live Green Co use AI to facilitate clean label reformulation, ensuring products have easily recognisable ingredients. PawCo employs similar techniques for dog food[8]. AI can sift through information and trial new ingredients hundreds of times faster than human trials, making the search for clean label solutions that prioritise nutrition significantly more efficient.

Consumer-facing AI interventions can offer nutritionally superior alternatives when online shopping, using image recognition scales, smart checkouts, and real-time recipe suggestions[9]. However, how consumers will embrace these AI interventions in their daily routines remains to be seen.

Below we highlight a range of companies utilising AI across the globe:

USA – Portions Master AI App.

Promising to revolutionise dieting, consumer who sign up just need to take a photo of their meal and in real time, Portion AI breaks down each food item, providing a detailed analysis of calories and macros.

Global – Bar GPT

From the roots of Chat GPT, Bar GPT is an educational tool that can create a new cocktail, with recipe, instructions, and even an image of what it could look like.

UK – Mob

Leading ingredients website is showcasing the power of AI in development, harnessing the tools of Chat GPT for meal planning, and recipe innovation.

Australia – Treasury Wine Estates

The owner of Penfolds and Lindeman’s, is using AI and robotics to improve sustainability at its vineyards, help with barrel storage at its wineries, as well as prepare for weather events.

For more information on food trends and market insights, check out our journals here.

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Please note, we are not affiliated, associated, or in any way officially connected with the brands and products mentioned within this post. 

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