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Opinion: Preparing for an AI overhaul
Guest contributor

Guest contributor

14 March 2024

Opinion: Preparing for an AI overhaul

The food and beverage manufacturing industry is poised for transformation with advancements in artificial intelligence (AI). Companies like PepsiCo and Kellogg's are already leveraging AI to optimise operations – yet, cautious implementation is crucial to navigating ethical and regulatory challenges. Strategic deployment of AI promises efficiency and innovation in B2B manufacturing, as Arun Kumar, EVP for Data and AI and global practice leader of Hero Digital, further explains. The manufacturing industry stands at the cusp of a transformative shift that is largely propelled by advancements in AI. A recent survey conducted by Lucidworks of 400 B2B manufacturing companies sheds light on an undeniable trend: a staggering 93% of these firms plan to escalate their AI investments in 2024. While some companies are simply trying to keep up with technology, many of them are fundamentally rethinking their operations to be more efficient and gain an edge in an increasingly competitive market. At the heart of AI's allure is its capability to automate complex processes. For B2B manufacturing executives, the key lies in identifying areas ripe for efficiency gains. Through AI, mundane tasks can be streamlined or entirely automated, freeing up human resources for more strategic needs. Major companies like Siemens, IBM and Intel Corporation are at the forefront of this transformation. IBM Watson, for example, continues to get better at providing predictive intelligence and automation features to provide insights into market demands and inventory needs. What does it look like when we bring these powers to bear on the food and beverage sector? Let's run through the possibilities. Six ways AI can improve your business While improved efficiency is one of the biggest impacts you can make with AI, it's far from the only one. Here are six ways AI can help your business, including a couple of examples pulled directly from the food and beverage industry: 1. Production AI can be used to predict production issues related to machine maintenance and operation, thereby allowing operators to minimise downtime and improve operational efficiency. AI can also be used in the production process to provide operational improvements that may have been either impossible or cost-prohibitive to do with a human agent. Take PepsiCo, for example. The company's Frito-Lay division utilises machine learning to enhance product quality, employing lasers to analyse the texture of chips by sound. This innovation, along with a vision system that predicts potato weights, has led to significant cost savings. Efforts to optimise the peeling process promise further financial benefits.

2. Supply chain resilience One of the big takeaways of the last few years is the vulnerability of supply chains. AI can help with this by analysing supply chain data to forecast demand, optimise inventory and reduce waste. AI can also be used to maximise the efficiency of the distribution process through effective route management. For instance, Kellogg's has integrated AI to improve supply chain efficiency and product development. By analysing demand signals and identifying potential disruptions, AI helps them ensure timely delivery and reduce waste, which has led to a notable increase in sales. 3. Quality control and safety Leveraging AI-enabled imaging and other sensor data can help improve quality control during the production process. Early detection of contamination, spoilage or bacteria can prevent downstream disasters in the form of large-scale recalls (and worse). Research from UC Davis published in the Journal for Applied and Environmental Microbiology sheds more light on this approach. The UC Davis researchers employed AI to detect bacteria rapidly, aiding in preventing foodborne illnesses. Their study showcased the efficiency and accuracy of AI-assisted detection, providing a promising avenue for food safety enhancement. This advancement not only accelerates pathogen detection but also holds potential for automated safety inspections, bolstering consumer confidence in food systems.

4. Trend forecasting AI's can rapidly analyse and predict trends and, therefore, provide a unique advantage in foreseeing and adapting to consumer preferences, such as the surge in vegetarian and vegan products. This foresight allows companies to innovate and capture market share proactively. 5. Conversational customer service Using AI, companies can implement conversational interfaces that significantly improve the customer experience, making it easier for consumers to communicate their needs and preferences. By providing intuitive interfaces for customer feedback, companies can more effectively incorporate consumer insights into their processes. This direct line of communication can drive product and service enhancements. 6. Content generation AI is also poised to transform areas requiring substantial effort but bearing low risks, such as the creation of product brochures and technical documents, such as food labels, nutritional information etc. As regulations continue to evolve in this space, AI can help keep content creation costs in check and ensure consistency and accuracy across materials. For example, 50% of marketers who use generative AI like ChatGPT find it useful for product descriptions. But for all the well-earned excitement, AI's power comes with its set of challenges. It's essential to handle the complexities of AI integration thoughtfully, considering aspects like data privacy, ethical AI use and the importance of human oversight.

A cautious approach to AI implementation The decision to use AI should be driven by clear benefits and strategic goals rather than the allure of following a trend. Companies must carefully assess how AI can enhance their operations and, ultimately, their products. For those in the food and drink world, using AI means treading carefully around rules on how products are made and sold, making sure everything's above board. In this industry, it's all about meeting food safety rules, being spot-on with labels, being honest in marketing and being careful with customer info. Ensuring AI models are transparent and decisions can be explained is critical to complying with regulations. Additionally, companies must tread carefully when it comes to product development. It's all about making sure everything – from ingredients to processes – meets health and safety standards and that marketing messages backed by AI are honest and not misleading to consumers. As AI gets more entwined with daily business operations, sticking to legal and ethical guidelines becomes even more essential. Companies must double-check that their AI applications are in line with these norms, preventing any potential legal headaches down the line. Looking ahead to 2024, as the B2B manufacturing sector prepares for an AI revolution, the key will be thoughtful deployment of AI to truly enhance operations and customer satisfaction, all while keeping an eye out for potential stumbling blocks. Navigating the AI landscape with care can lead to great gains in efficiency, innovation, and staying competitive.

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