- Conagra is now employing an artificial-intelligence-enabled platform to identify consumer preferences and release on-trend products to market in a fraction of the time previously required, reported the Wall Street Journal.
- The technology allowed the packaged goods conglomerate to release new products this year, including Healthy Choice grain-free bowls in compostable containers and Reddi-wip Nitro Creamer to mimic coffee shop drinks in the home.
- The AI platform continually pulls data from a variety of sources, including Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Google and market-research companies. The system then compiles and analyzes the data for Conagra to track trends and glean insight into niche consumer groups.
Choice is a double-edged sword. It has allowed for the proliferation of brands and options, but it also means that consumers are more fickle in their loyalty and apt to move on to the next great product. As a result, it is no longer enough to know what the consumer wants today. Companies have to anticipate what they want tomorrow.
To do so, many companies have turned toward artificial intelligence to comb through mountains of data and identify culinary trends or ingredients that are on the cusp of becoming a thing. In February, McCormick announced that it was partnering with technology giant IBM to use artificial intelligence to mine 40 years of data it has amassed on consumers, taste palates and product attributes to find unnoticed flavor combinations — like cumin to enhance the pizza flavor profile — that would bring some new life to the offerings. Nestlé is employing another kind of artificial intelligence in Japan called "Wellness Ambassador" that combines DNA testing and meal analysis to collect consumer data on diet and health. Now Conagra is jumping into the game and pulling data from a variety of sources to give consumers what they want.
Data is a valuable tool, but it is also one that is given fairly freely. A 2014 survey of more than 10,000 "connected" shoppers from management consulting firm A.T. Kearney found more than half of the respondents were online nearly every hour they were awake — plenty of time to share opinions and scroll through emerging trends on social media.
If established CPG companies continue to rely on the traditional method of product R&D and testing, they are likely to fall behind. AI gives these big industry titans a window into what people are actually curious to try. Startup Tastewise, which has an AI platform that analyzes billions of food and beverage data points, reported an increase in social media and on menu mentions of truffles, Hawaiian snack Spam musubi and bright purple yam ube. That has corresponded to other trends seen in the food industry.
Being able to gather these insights in real-time allows companies to catch micro-trends as they sweep and also create a dialogue with the consumer base. AI amplifies the efficacy of this approach by giving companies actual data points that can help guide its conversations with consumers and drill down quickly to offer products that could resonate right now.