- Swiss flavor company Firmenich used artificial intelligence (AI) in partnership with Microsoft to optimize flavor combinations and create a lightly grilled beef taste for plant-based meat alternatives, according to a release.
- The company is working to create other AI-generated flavors based on a raw materials database it maintains. Using AI allows the company to address other consumer criteria and ingredient requirements such as clean label, organic, natural or non-GMO more quickly.
- Demand for plant-based protein is growing and flavors are becoming more nuanced as companies try to mimic natural meat flavors. AI can help predict the tastes that consumers are searching for as well as forecast future trends.
While the pace of new product releases in the food and beverage industry may seem like warp speed, it is not often that these new products succeed in the market. According to market research firm IRI, more than 10,000 new products make it to retail shelves every year, and 90% fail to achieve the goals they set.
Companies are increasingly deploying AI to better that ratio, especially in the competitive plant-based meat space. Firmenich leveraged Microsoft’s technology to cross reference its ingredients database with what consumers crave to create its grilled meat flavor.
Employing technology that can scan social media, the internet and data from market research companies to glean insights about consumer preferences enables companies to tap into a database of micro-trends, developing tastes and up-and-coming ingredients — at a fraction of the pace that it traditionally takes to do market research and R&D.
"We must understand and respond to these rapidly-evolving needs with more creativity at an even faster pace," said Emmanuel Butstraen, Firmenich Flavor's president, said in a statement, adding that the pandemic has only accelerated the evolution of consumer preferences.
The pandemic has hastened the growth of the alternative protein market, with sales of all plant-based meats up 148% compared to last year, according to SPINS statistics that monitored sales through April 19. However, many meat eaters are still looking for tastes that replicate the flavors and aromas of animal-based products, which can be difficult to achieve. If plant-based manufacturers want to attract carnivores, which for many is their primary goal, the more the product tastes like meat the easier it will be to do that.
While there has been progress by manufacturers, flavor continues to be the No. 1 barrier for the adoption of meat alternatives. A white paper by Kerry found 73% of respondents said alternatives should mimic the taste of meat. Furthermore, the nutritional profile and use of natural ingredients in plant-based options are important, with 41% saying high protein is an important attribute and almost a third wanting organic offerings with no artificial preservatives.
Firmenich is far from the only company using AI for its product launches and more may be coming in the future. McCormick has partnered with IBM to use AI, and Conagra Brands is using the technology to identify consumer preferences and release on-trend products. Tastewise also has come onto the market with the ability to analyze billions of data points to provide insights white AI upstart Brightseed recently raised $27 million as demand for healthy offerings has surged. As trends change and businesses scramble to get products to market faster, AI will undobutedly play a bigger role in the future.