BY ELIZABETH CHERIAN
DIRECTOR, INNOVATION GROUP, JWT INTELLIGENCE
The Consumer Electronics Show kicks off every year in Las Vegas, and sets the tone for innovation for the year ahead. The conference earlier this month was no exception, with artificial intelligence (AI) starring the headlines as the technology to transform 2017. With the AI market expected to grow to $5.05 billion by 2020, there is a massive opportunity for the food and beverage industries to harness its capabilities, improve offerings, optimise operations and deliver a better customer experience.
One promising product to debut at CES 2017 is Hello Egg, the AI-powered ‘home-cooking sidekick’ on a mission to empower millennials to eat more healthily. Developed by US-based RnD64, this voice-controlled, egg-shaped home assistant rivals competitors Google Home and Amazon Echo, integrating AI to address any and all kitchen needs. It can plan weekly meals according to dietary preferences, demonstrate cooking tutorials on its convex video screen, supervise the pantry, organise shopping lists, and arrange grocery delivery.
Consumers are asking for this kind of help when it comes to food. Research by J. Walter Thompson shows that 77% of UK/US millennials want technology to offer them more assistance in planning and cooking healthy meals. There is an appetite for technology in the market that AI can address. While various technologies fit under the umbrella term – including natural language processing, image recognition and machine learning – the overall cost of AI is lowering. Brands can tap into a myriad of opportunities that AI presents.
When it comes to time optimisation and consumer engagement, speech and image recognition are two facets of AI that can play an important role. Personal diet coach Lark is one app that uses speech recognition to log meals. Users simply voice what they have eaten and Lark estimates the number of calories consumed and offers personalised nutritional advice. Quick and painless. Other similar voice-activated apps that show promise in this space are Nutritionix Track and the MIT and Tufts University calorie counter. Meanwhile Google is using image recognition with its product Im2Calories to estimate the nutritional content of a meal from a photo. What’s quicker than snapping a pic? If consumers can save time logging their meals, they will be more likely to track their behaviours and share their invaluable data with apps and, ultimately, brands.
Thanks to developments in natural language processing and machine learning, AI can better process data, and provide more personalised products and advice. Data-rich fitness tracking app Lifesum set a challenge for itself to address a local health issue and design a custom-made product for its users. Analysis showed their London users suffered from fatigue and stress due to insufficient levels of vitamin E, zinc and omega-3 in their diet. In an effort to address this problem, the company teamed up with smoothie retailer Crussh to develop the perfect, nutritionally balanced drink for a busy Londoner. By analysing data effectively, there is a real opportunity for brands like Lifesum to create better products and new business opportunties.
AI can also engage consumers on a large scale. Chatbots are computer programs that simulate conversation. When augmented with AI, they can deliver responsive, cost-effective customer service to a limitless audience over messaging platforms. Wholefoods has created one such chatbot on Facebook Messenger in which customers are shown products and recipes based on special diets or specific ingredients and cuisines. Just Eat and The Guardian’s Sous-Chef have similar offerings. Importantly, effective chatbots can help an infinite number of people 24/7 at a fraction of the cost of traditional customer service. Estimated to run between $5,000-$10,000, chatbot development offers a fairly inexpensive introduction to AI for any brand looking to experiment in the arena. With messaging apps proving to be more popular than social networks, there is massive scope for brands to reach a greater audience on these platforms via AI.
If the hype at CES 2017 is any indication, AI and the products and services it powers hold much promise for brands. In conjunction with effective data analysis, the technologies can offer efficiency, broader reach, advanced recommendations, new product development, and better consumer engagement. It is vitally important for players in the food and beverage industries to consider how AI can work for them or risk being left behind.
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