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Updated: Apr 15, 2021

Restaurants can soon use the power of AI to tell you what you really want to eat.

Believe it or not, moving forward to the future, AI will have a big role to play, in the food we eat. From the farm, to the kitchen, to the table, more and more in the food industry will rely on the accuracy of AI to bring us exactly what we want, minus the waste of the things we do not want.

AI can do this by analyzing massive amounts of consumption patterns and customer eating habits – and crunching the numbers into something insightful that restaurant owners, food plants and even farmers can understand and act on.

Singapore-based AI company SQREEM and a local technology-driven food & beverage company Ebb & Flow Group are working together to enhance what AI can offer fro the rest of the food and beverage industry in Singapore and the rest of the region.

CEO and Co-founder of SQREEM Technologies, Ian Chapman-Banks and Philipp Karl Helfried Chief Investment Officer at Ebb & Flow Group answered some of our questions about the role of AI in the food industry.

1. How is AI involved in the food industry now? Does it start from the supply chain?

[Philipp]: There’s a lot that AI can do to help improve the F&B sector and make it more efficient, but at the moment it isn’t being fully utilized by traditional F&B companies. The industry is still very much in the early stages of the AI journey, and current use cases are largely aimed at augmenting only the operational side of things.

We have seen some firms begin to use AI to optimise supply chain management or reduce food wastage to improve sustainability. AI could be used to automate certain food manufacturing processes, track usage of ingredients in a restaurant and optimize stocking of food stuffs across the week.

For Wrap Bstrd, which is a partnership between SQREEM and Ebb & Flow, we are leveraging AI right from the start of conceptualising a brand. We analysed 200,000 data points and converted these into actionable insights. Not only does using AI give us insights that assist us with taking the guesswork out of product, brand and menu creation, it can go even further and help us understand when best to reach our audiences and through which marketing or advertising channels.

In the F&B sector, AI/tech is traditionally only used to simplify operations. But we plan to go one step further and use it to craft concepts, develop brands, inform marketing decisions and even help companies make key strategic and business decisions.

2. How can AI change the supply chain and make it easier every step of the way?

[Ian]: Leveraging SQREEM’s advanced behavioural data capabilities and pattern analysis allows Ebb & Flow Group’s Dark Kitchen – an off-premise kitchen that preps the food to be delivered to consumers – to take a lot of the guesswork and manual research out of the usual process required to build out F&B brands from the ground up.

The ability to analyse 200,000 data points and convert these into actionable insights means we are able to glean a very specific direction to work towards when crafting our brands, and the menus. This way we can augment the creativity of our chefs by giving them the tools they need to make sure their recipe is a hit with a very specific demographic, in this case office workers in the CBD area.

Our use of data and analytics also spans more than just the creation of the menu, it also informs our decisions with regards to branding, and marketing; how, where and when we reach our audiences. It also allows us to trial new concepts and brands at a fraction of the cost of conventional methods, so we can test out new menus and fail fast with very minimal cost impact, if needed.

3. Can you tell me how AI has successfully transformed the industry?

[Philipp]: There’s a lot of ways that AI can be applied to the F&B industry, and these transformations are only starting to take place. Traditionally looking at food trends would be done through consumer studies, which would be a long laborious process; you would have to design the study, find people to survey, tabulate the results and then interpret that data and come to your own conclusions.

Utilising AI coupled with anonymised search and other online data means we get massive amounts of data processed in real time. Our solution examines hundreds of thousands data points which provides us with what is essentially a census of the population in real time.

4. How is your company involved, and what else is it doing that we can look forward to in the future?

[Ian]: SQREEM’s data capabilities allows Ebb & Flow Group’s Dark Kitchen to take a lot of the guesswork out of product, brand and menu creation, and it even helps us understand when to reach our audiences and which marketing channels will be most successful.

For the F&B sector, we expect that our insights generated on customer preferences and behaviour will only become more accurate over time as we continue to learn from customer behaviour. Beyond customer insights, we also anticipate that AI will be used in F&B to improve sustainability of the industry; optimising food chains right from the very top, all the way down to reducing food waste within the restaurant itself.

Another exciting aspect of AI in F&B is using them in Dark Kitchens, off-premise kitchens that cook food to be delivered to consumers. This model is one that Ebb & Flow Group is pioneering in partnership with SQREEM, allowing us to set up operations at a fraction of the cost of traditional F&B operators, where we can utilise AI data to test out new ideas and concepts within 8-12 weeks. The ability to experiment and fail fast can pave the way for budding food entrepreneurs and would result in a more vibrant F&B scene altogether.

It is also feasible that the use of AI could also potentially open the doors for cross-industry applications. For example, if someone is on a medical diet, AI could help pair them with suitable restaurants or dishes.

5. Will AI potentially make it harder for traditional F&B operators to cope?

[Ian]: The amount of data available today is huge, and it will only continue to grow. Businesses, whether it’s F&B or something else, will have no choice but to build their data capabilities to stay relevant and keep up with competitors.

We foresee that the competitive advantage of utilizing AI will be too large to be ignored. Manually doing market research, surveying potential customers, doing taste tests and so on are all time-consuming endeavours. If you are able to not just know, but really know what your customers want, your course of action becomes much clearer. Which means you can innovate that much faster.

That said, AI should not be seen as a challenge for traditional F&B operators, but instead as an opportunity. With the recent crisis brought on by Covid-19, traditional brick and mortar businesses are increasingly shifting into the digital space. The shift represents a means to continue operations and to thrive in changing environments.

One of the barriers for adoption amongst non-tech companies is the lack of information that is available out there. Non-tech businesses may not be aware of the possible use cases.

SQREEM is already working with various non-tech businesses to help them utilise these data capabilities. SQREEM’s AI capabilities have been proven in a myriad of scenarios: assisting governments with tracking criminal activity, predicting global market events, detecting instances of fraud, and assisting multiple firms in the financial sector with their media campaigns. SQREEM also works with 12 of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies as clients, providing them with expert insights and advanced targeting capabilities.

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