Food manufacturing companies tend to be very interested in Aryballe's digital olfaction technology, which can sense and match scents.
Terri Jordan, the executive vice president of business development worldwide and president of the company's U.S. division, said they often find it difficult to conceptualize exactly what the company does, how manufacturers can use it and what can be done with the data. All of that makes sense to her, though, considering that Aryballe is creating an entirely new classification of data.
"No consistent reliable odor data exists today," Jordan said. "...We're creating something at the same time that we're bringing the products there. That's certainly a challenge at times. We need to actually create the reference and the standard."
Aryballe, which started in 2014 from a discovery in an R&D lab sponsored by the French government, has been forging a path to develop technology and data to test scents for the last six years. Many food and beverage manufacturers use the technology for quality control, to keep similar products organized and to aid in reformulations.
The company works not just with food and beverage manufacturing, but in the consumer food space to help determine food's freshness and when cooking is done, in the automotive space for the "new car smell" and figuring out when preventive maintenance is due, and in the cosmetics and personal care industries.
Since Aryballe entered a partnership with International Flavors & Fragrances to develop an odor-sensing tool specific to the food and beverage space in January 2019, it has attracted a lot of attention from manufacturers. Last month, the company closed a roughly $7.9 million (7 million euros) round of funding involving global investors Samsung Ventures, Seb Alliance, Innovacom, Cemag Invest, Asahi Kasei and HCVC.
How it works
Aryballe's system is less nuanced than the human nose. It has 64 receptors for scent, while the human nose has hundreds, Jordan said.
What the system is best for is taking scents and breaking them down into actual data. This data can be studied and built upon. Is the same scent present throughout a large batch of a product? Has the scent been replicated in a new formulation? Have different components blended for the desired scent?
Jordan said Aryballe isn't angling to replace human tasting panels who analyze scent and taste of products like beer, coffee and chocolate for consistency and craft. Humans who do smell and taste tests of new and reformulated products in consumer research are still vitally important because they experience food and drink tastes in the context of real life and through human emotion.
"We're creating something at the same time that we're bringing the products there. That's certainly a challenge at times. We need to actually create the reference and the standard."
EVP of business development worldwide and president, Aryballe
"Overall, I would view that we're more reliable rather than more sensitive," Jordan said. "More consistent than more sensitive. And the ability to automate and get the same thing. ...We are super focused on repeatability and reproducibility in our technology, and obviously that gives rise to consistency from measure to measure and from day to day."
Aryballe's system is made up of a small sensor and digital displays. The sensor, which uses peptides to mimic humans' sense of smell, analyzes the components of an odor and transmits it to a digital system. The digital system builds a database of different scents — like what different blends and roasts of coffee smell like, or fruit fragrances most liked by consumers or components that make up a smell. New scents are analyzed to see how they match up with or are different from those in the database, and can be developed from there. Through machine learning, which is computer algorithms improving as they collect more data, this analysis gets better and can provide more actionable insights to manufacturers, said Liz Facteau, Aryballe's director of global marketing.
Jordan said the sensor technology is becoming better, getting smaller and moving to better materials. In January, the company debuted a new low cost, high volume sensor at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Jordan said she expects a newer version of the sensor to be available in Q4 of this year.
What can it do?
Aryballe's sensor and data are tools that need to be aligned to what manufacturers are looking for. Jordan said potential clients sometimes think it's an easy software solution that can quickly analyze odors. And while the entire system can provide a fast analysis, the client using it needs to create and identify the scents that will be analyzed and used for comparison and identification.
This makes Aryballe perfect for ensuring consistency in products where aroma is a key factor. Jordan said the company has worked with coffee, chocolate and vanilla manufacturers.
"If you're a coffee manufacturer and you're trying to make sure that you can tell the difference between ... the Italian blend versus the French roast, you don't want those to get messed up," Jordan said. "It's amazing how quickly things can get kind of separated. It's for preventing human defects."
The system could also be used for a commodity like grain, which could be ruined if it gets wet in the shipping process. The Aryballe system could be trained to identify the smell of wet grain, which would help enhance quality control, Jordan said.
One area where it is being used more is to aid in reformulations. As any food item is chewed, different aromas that escape help consumers truly taste the product. Jordan said Aryballe is being called upon to compare the escaping aromas from the old formulation and the new one, which could help companies improve their products without losing consumers.
Jordan and Facteau both said there's been more interest in Aryballe from the food space during the pandemic. But the main function that potential customers want is to be able to better determine product freshness.
Regardless of the function, Jordan and Facteau both see a bright future for Aryballe in the food industry, especially as manufacturers start seeing how the technology can work to their advantage.
"People believe that we have the tools, both in the hardware and the software side ... and the way that we're structured, and setting up the authoritative data capture approach. I think we have a lot of excitement about our company, and about us, and about how we're approaching it. I think it's a very relevant technology."