Food companies have struggled to adapt to changing consumer demands as e-commerce and social media change the industry.
The startup Tastewise has a new artificial intelligence platform that analyzes billions of food and beverage data points — including more than 1 billion food photos shared each month, 153,000 U.S. restaurant menus and more than 1 million online recipes — to determine consumer demand, opportunities in the marketplace and upcoming trendy ingredients.
"We realized that a big part of the challenge today is really trying to find data and insights that would be based on real-time analytics," Tastewise CEO Alon Chen told Food Dive.
The platform allows users to search emerging food trends and receive "up-to-the-minute industry insights" and predictions, according to the release announcing the platform. Chen said that the industry isn't adapting fast enough and this platform could help.
"Trends and consumer insights need to be a lot more dynamic in the food industry because otherwise there is going to a be lot of missed opportunities," Chen said.
"If it will take you six months to run a survey and then, based on the survey, analyze it and then get insights, and only then go for production or change your menu, then all of this planning, you are building for a trend that already happened six months ago," according to Chen.
"Trends and consumer insights need to be a lot more dynamic in the food industry because otherwise there is going to a be lot of missed opportunities."
On Wednesday morning, the startup released its first Consumer Food Trends Report, outlining rising food trends found through their data. It includes a map detailing where the biggest health food opportunities are in each state.
According to the report, zhoug, a hot sauce originating in Yemeni cuisine, saw a 129% increase in mentions on social media over the last year. Tastewise expects it to be the "next sriracha." Bone marrow also became popular.
"A lot of the trends that we are seeing in the U.S. have been traveling worldwide," Chen said.
Truffles, Hawaiian snack Spam musubi and bright purple yam ube all saw increases in social media mentions and on menus. Chen said that the popularity of these foods corresponds to other trends in the industry.
"The fact that there is now people using (ube) for dessert is coming from the fact that people want natural coloring, and the trend we are seeing with bone marrow is coming from the keto diet, which is encouraging people to eat nutrients," he said.
Social media has had a larger role to play in the industry in recent years, and this report lays out how much these foods have increased in mentions on those websites. But Chen said these predictions weren't just based on social media alone. The platform also calculated other data points like growth on menus.
"Social media can be a great indicator and definitely needs to be considered, but it really needs to be blended with other data points to make it substantial," he said.
The report also found that there is a $9.18 billion demand for healthy food in the U.S. that is not being met. The company arrived at that number by finding the gap between the conversation about healthy food at home compared to available healthy food at restaurants.
For example, the report found many Kansas restaurants have not adapted to consumer demands for healthier foods, which could boost their revenue by $110 million more per year.
Guy Heksch, global vice president of Pure Grey Culinary Concepts Hospitality Group, said in a release that working with Tastewise and using the predictive analytics has helped change their decision-making strategy.
"Diving far deeper than simply understanding consumer preferences, their insights help us select target audiences, catch micro-trends as they sweep from neighborhood to state level and design menus to suit our guests' tastes, even pinpointing exactly what it takes to concoct a sensational cocktail," Heksch said.
Tastewise's "insights help us select target audiences, catch micro-trends as they sweep from neighborhood to state level and design menus to suit our guests' tastes, even pinpointing exactly what it takes to concoct a sensational cocktail."
Global vice president, Pure Grey Culinary Concepts Hospitality Group
AI is transforming different aspects of the food industry and Tastewise is hoping to capitalize on that early on. Tastewise's platform uses predictive analytics, algorithms, machine learning, computer vision and natural language processing so food companies can learn about new trends on both a local and national scale.
"Big data is transforming big industries," Tal Tochner from Pico Ventures, the lead investor at Tastewise, said in a release. "As the food industry is undergoing immense changes, we are excited that Tastewise has the power to drive the transformation in decision making, providing critical business insights to enable hotels, restaurants and food brands to stay ahead of the curve."
Chen said he wants these data analytics to be used by the entire food and beverage ecosystem as the industry adjusts to changing consumer demands and wider use of AI across industries.
"AI is going everywhere," Chen said. "The food industry is taking on AI slowly but surely, and I think it will be bringing a lot more news in the future as well."