Over the past few years, the food services industry has been in a state of transformation. Modern food production and safety as well as the storage and delivery of ingredients are increasingly dependent on a complex ecosystem of automated, data-driven processes. Currently, some of these same systems are promising to completely change the way food is prepared and packaged onsite.  

AI and the Future of Food 

Much of the demand for automated technologies in the food services industry boils down to control and transparency. It’s technology’s answer to the ever-expanding web of global supply chains that must operate with precision in the face of economic and logistical instability. Even locally sourced products are coming with more complexity because of increasing food safety legislation and scrutiny. This is combined with rapid shifts in food culture and consciousness. Consumers today want to know more about what is going into their food and where it came from.

Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) algorithms and natural language processing are thus being employed to optimize food ecosystems. These technologies have already made their way into practically every aspect of food production and delivery. There they are improving crop yields, tracking products and ingredients through the supply chain, and making the food delivery process much more flexible and efficient.  

Companies involved in food preparation can now use these same technologies to significantly improve packaging, increasing food safety and shelf life– all while reducing production costs. 

The Benefits of AI-Powered Food Preparation

A theme that appears to be running throughout all of this digital transformation is that the food service enterprises of the near future will really be “tech companies” that just happen to be dealing with food. We’re not talking solely about big, global corporations, either. All signs indicate that the transition to smart data analysis and so-called automated decision-making (ADM), which is the use of data, machines and algorithms to make decisions, will eventually extend to food-related companies of all types and sizes. 

 For instance, below are 5 ways smart automated technologies such as AI and ML are set to enhance the way food is prepared: 

Market Analysis. Knowing what meals are the best choice to include on a menu is critical to increasing revenue. With sudden shifts in consumer demand becoming the norm, being in touch with popular tastes and preferences and being able to quickly spot upcoming trends, is an important competitive advantage. 

 In response, a number of AI-powered platforms are being developed that can predict up and coming consumer food and flavor preferences. Sometimes preferences are predicted even before consumers themselves realize they want them themselves.  

Food safety. Smart automation improves food safety by making supply chain management more accurate, transparent, and effective. This is particularly important in light of recent introduction of new health requirements and legislation, such as Natasha’s Law, which will require food service establishments to provide complete ingredients labeling on all pre-packed for direct sale foods.

Aside from allergen labelling, AI could significantly improve the packaging to increase sales, be more environmentally friendly, and extend product shelf life. It could also help to monitor for the use of harmful pesticides and contamination from food borne pathogens, such as e coli.

Automated Kitchens. The digitalization and automation of menu planning, cooking processes, and equipment is the direct outgrowth of IoT (Internet of things) technology, and this alone can have a tremendous impact on how food is prepared. For instance, equipment used to process foods can already include automated settings, self-monitoring and modulating features, as well as a self-cleaning mode. Typical menu-planning of the near future may involve smart, interactive libraries of ingredients, allergen information, recipes with substitution options, and presentation ideas. 

AI-enabled applications, such as IBM’s Chef Watson, can help new and experienced cooking professionals alike create novel recipes and meal combinations. Systems can track customer behavior and preferences and combine it with market trends, while communicating with digital supply chain data to check ingredient availability. 

Supply Chain Automation and monitoring. Automated supply chain management offers real-time, transparent ingredient tracking and the ability to communicate with suppliers and distributors across the supply chain. These systems can not only track the movement of products, and record allergen information, but they can alert food establishments of product delays or shortages and make recommendations for substitutions in food preparation. Algorithms based on artificial neural networks can also make pricing and inventory forecasts, which can help food services companies contain costs and keep their inventory fresh.

Better Customer Experience Management. Currently, there are several applications in the food services sector that leverage AI technology combined with customer profiling and historical data to help predict visitor traffic, food orders, and inventory needs during a given period. AI is also being used to offer personalized experiences based on customer habits and preferences, resulting in a more fulfilling customer experience and repeat orders. Another system in the works is self-service point-of-sale systems that enable customers to control the ordering process, examine their options, and access important data about ingredients, allergens, and flavors.  

All of these platforms are both guiding and changing customer service expectations, and food services establishments cannot afford to ignore them.

Food preparation, in particular, will become a data-driven process designed to tantalize taste buds and increase transparency, while simultaneously saving resources, improving profit margins, and helping food establishments keep customers coming back for more.

In closing, AI and its associated technologies, are transforming the food services sector from the inside out. Food preparation, in particular, will become a data-driven process designed to tantalize taste buds and increase transparency, while simultaneously saving resources, improving profit margins, and helping food establishments keep customers coming back for more.

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