Thought for Food: How AI Is Reimagining the Food Industry

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Here’s a smart move: Make every effort to understand the far-reaching impact of artificial intelligence on the food and beverage landscape. As one of the most disruptive multifaceted technological advances ever, with transformational ramifications across industries, AI is rapidly altering the way restaurant chains operate and food and beverage brands do business.

The mind-boggling ability of artificial intelligence to combine deep data, customization and automation into one powerful recipe for success presents very real opportunities for exponential growth in food and beverage services, marketing and manufacturing.

 

A Taste for Tech and Treats: Gen Z Feasts on TikTok and Savors Bold Flavors

At restaurants, the revolution is underway, with major chains including Wingstop, Del Taco, Domino’s and Panera using AI-enabled voice ordering systems. Wingstop and Domino’s have partnered with voice AI software company ConverseNow, whose virtual assistant bot can take multiple calls simultaneously and speak both English and Spanish. 

The fact that ConverseNow technology for phone and drive-thru is in more than 1,200 restaurants in 46 states speaks volumes about the future of AI voice ordering as a way to streamline order-taking while reducing reliance on human labor.

As Wingstop CEO Michael Skipworth said: “I think there’s opportunities as it relates to phone orders that are still in front of us and how we can make that a digital transaction and take pressure off of the front counter.” Wingstop’s plan is to ultimately digitize 100% of its operations, and with 30% of the brand’s orders coming over the phone, the bot is a big step toward its goal.

Bhavin Asher, CTO of the self-ordering system solutions company GRUBBRR, predicts AI’s impact on the restaurant business will extend throughout operations. “AI in five years will be used in both front-of-house and back-of-house operations focusing on forecasting, reporting, predicting inventory and labor needs to start,” he said. “Restaurant operators see many customer-facing benefits with this new technology, including ordering, smart upsells and more personalization.”

Souped Up! Campbell Pours on the AI for Product Development

In an example of how food manufacturers are leveraging AI for product development, the Campbell Soup Co. is using AI-driven data tracking to determine what customers want. The data showed that the market was hungry for the brand to spice things up. As a result, the soup juggernaut introduced a wide variety of spicy flavors, including Chunky Ghost Pepper Chicken Noodle Soup, Spicy Steak and Potato, and Spicy Chicken and Sausage Gumbo, among others. By using AI to analyze trends, Campbell was also able to capitalize on the growing demand for air fryers with its introduction of Kettle Brand Air Fried Chips. 

Milking It: AI Makes Cheese Manufacturers Smile

The global reach of AI means evolving transformative power on a massive scale. French dairy juggernaut Bel Group has partnered with U.S.-based biotechnology company Climax Foods to use AI to develop plant-based alternatives that more closely replicate the taste, texture and nutritional profile of the original dairy products.

Multinational CPG powerhouse Kraft Foods has teamed up with food tech company NotCo, which uses AI to create alt-protein products like plant-based cheese, meats and milk. According to Kraft Heinz CEO Miguel Patricio, the partnership “is a critical step in the transformation of our product portfolio and a tremendous addition to our brand design-to-value capabilities. It helps deliver on our vision to offer more clean, green, and delicious products for consumers. We believe the technology that NotCo brings is revolutionizing the creation of delicious plant-based foods with simpler ingredients.”

As a result, AI platforms that take plant-based product development to the next level feed high demand for healthier food alternatives that are good for the planet as well as people. 

The Big Spill: Beer Advertising Gets a Taste of AI

So how is AI reshaping the way food and beverage products are marketed? To commemorate the 150th anniversary of Beck’s, the beer brand used Chat GPT and Midjourney to develop Beck’s Autonomous, the first AI-created beer and ad campaign. AI parsed millions of different flavor combinations to create the recipe for the limited-edition brew, as well as the can design, packaging, logo and promotional imagery.

As Beck’s Marketing Director Laura Salway explained: “After being at the forefront of the brewing world for 150 years, this represents the next step in our journey. It’s been fascinating to see Beck’s Autonomous come to life and how we can continue to embrace new technology in the industry and across brand communications.” 

Beck’s Autonomous may be representative of a smart, strategic approach to harnessing the power of AI to manufacture and market new products, but a viral mock beer commercial generated entirely from AI dramatizes the perils of relying too heavily upon AI to represent human experience. With over 40 million views across social platforms, Synthetic Summer is AI run amok, with a dystopian regurgitation of the classic beer commercial that turns it from feel good to feel scared.

“I think what is a very interesting thing about AI model imagery is that you can watch it and it seems totally normal,” said Chris Boyle, co-founder of Private Island, the commercial production company that created the cautionary video. “But some part of you is flagging: ‘Hang on, these people’s faces are on backward and there are too many fingers.’ That kind of lurking uncanniness makes it a surreal experience to watch, it taps into a lot of our fears with this technology — that’s the point of the video.”

One thing is for sure: AI is here to stay and growing fast in the sheer scope of its technological disruption, presenting unprecedented challenges and opportunities that take a lot of thought to navigate. How it’s used to feed business will depend on how it evolves and the smarts of the humans who leverage it.

To learn how our parent company WPP is leading the way with AI integrations for optimal results, be sure to read “Generative AI: a new phase of innovation.”

Topics: Trends, Marketing & Communications, Technology

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