McCormick & Co. has been in the business of adding flavor to foods, but now the Maryland company is adding a little spice to its product development through the use of artificial intelligence.
The 130-year old manufacturer of spices, seasoning mixes, flavorings and condiments has relied during much of its existence on humans to concoct the next best-selling product.
Still, it has increasingly viewed machines as a way to help its 500 scientists, flavorists, product developers and support staff churn out products faster and increase the likelihood that they will succeed in the marketplace.
McCormick said Monday it is partnering with IBM to use AI to mine 40 years of data it has amassed on consumers, taste palates and product attributes.
The company had previously developed new products by tapping into an estimated 4,000 ingredients in its database. Those items were extensively tested before heading to market.
A single product could be tweaked between 50 and 150 times before the right flavor was identified.
Now the company is hoping AI will enable it to comb through data faster and more effectively by knowing which ingredients work together or which ones can be used as substitutes. McCormick expects to launch its first three AI-enabled products in the late spring: recipe mix flavors of Tuscan Chicken, Bourbon Pork Tenderloin and New Orleans Sausage.
"The No. 1 challenge is how to create a product that will stay in the market for a long period of time. New products usually disappear within three, four or five years," Hamed Faridi, McCormick chief science officer, told Food Dive. "With this amazing compatibility, you can tap into 40-years-plus experience.
"We have a very good chance to create a product that becomes the next icons, either for us or for our customers, and stays on the market for 10, 20, 30, 50 years," Faridi said.
AI could make the process of developing new products up to 70% faster, according to Faridi. A product developer simply presses a button, starting computer algorithms that minutes later generate a dozen new recipe formulation ideas.
Researchers have a tendency to gravitate toward a select basket of ingredients, the company noted. Using AI will allow workers to consider previously untapped combinations or recommend things a human may have missed or never considered.
One occurred recently when AI suggested that a product developer add cumin to enhance the flavor profile of a spice for pizza.
"We're able to explore the flavors in a way that is perhaps a little bit more broad then they would have because it's impossible for them to know the thousands of ingredients that McCormick has available and be familiar with them," Robin Lougee, a research scientist at IBM, told Food Dive. "There is so much data that a human can't read all of it."
For McCormick, using AI "suddenly (increases) your ability to innovate" and is a way product developers can be "upping their game," Faridi said.
It also allows the company to better tap into e-commerce, where an unlimited shelf can allow them to customize more products for consumers. Faridi said the company is so committed to AI that by 2022 all new products could be created through the use of the technology.