Almond Board of California harnesses AI to drive food innovation

The nonprofit is embracing artificial intelligence through a partnership with Tastewise to predict consumer trends and drive innovation in the food industry, particularly focusing on the application of AI-driven insights to enhance almond-based products and address emerging consumer preferences.

Kimberly Decker, Contributing writer

February 7, 2024

5 Min Read

At a Glance

  • Almond Board of California partnered with Tastewise AI to analyze vast data sets and identify emerging snacking trends.
  • Tastewise helps analyze consumer preferences and generates suggestions for almond-based products aligning with these trends.
  • ABC is using AI-driven insights to inform product development and marketing strategies, exemplified by Chef Hill’s creations.

Depending on traffic — which, in California, is dependably gridlocked — the commute from Almond Board of California’s (ABC) Modesto headquarters to the high-tech heart of Silicon Valley can run anywhere from two and a half to three hours each way.

Intellectually speaking, the two cultures might as well be in the same neighborhood. That’s because ABC has a track record of embracing technology and it’s displaying that future-focused footing in its ongoing exploration of the powers of artificial intelligence (AI).

By teaming up with Tastewise, an AI-driven food trends intelligence startup based in Israel, ABC will scrape the web for precisely the data it needs to predict consumer trends before they start. If the data already accumulating are any indication, those trends offer opportunities for almonds.

Early adopters

The fact that an agricultural organization like ABC would experiment with a technology as “disruptive” as AI might seem counterintuitive. The growers, processors and farming families at the Board’s roots, however, are longtime early tech adopters.

Just ask Charice Grace, manager of trade marketing and stewardship for ABC. “Contrary to common misconceptions, the almond industry is a forward-thinking community that pairs tradition with technology to optimize how they grow,” she said.

One need only visit an almond orchard to see. “Growers have long worked with scientists and third-party experts to adopt irrigation technology like satellite imagery and sensors to advance the industry’s commitment to improving water efficiency,” Grace explained.

Informed inspiration

Now, they’re directing their forward lean from the fields to formulation, leveraging machine learning’s ability to collect and analyze robust datasets for actionable consumer insights worth sharing with food and beverage innovators.

Those insights are rife with occasions for centering almonds. “Almonds are highly versatile ingredients that’ve stood the test of time and adapted to new and emerging diets, tastes and other trends,” Grace said. “ABC plans to use the Tastewise AI platform to complement other syndicated research and inspire what the future of almond innovation can look like for food manufacturers.”

Grace calls it “informed inspiration” and she’s already witnessed it “accelerate and streamline” R&D to help industry professionals “anticipate fast-changing culinary trends and preferences.”

Speed and scale

“Fast changing” is of the essence, as what makes AI so invaluable — circa 2024 — is its superhuman capacity to predict consumer trends “at speed and scale,” according to Grace.

“In today’s ever-changing world, consumer data and preferences move fast,” she said. “With the help of Tastewise’s real-time data, ABC will bring meaningful intelligence to food manufacturers with increased accuracy and rapidity.”

Far from resisting AI’s forward march, she added, the Board “recognizes that from a food innovation perspective, adapting to AI gives us the opportunity to provide insights to industry professionals to more quickly meet consumer needs.”

End-to-end solution

So how does Tastewise produce these insights? According to Hannah Saich, the company’s customer success manager, “Tastewise is designed to generate actionable insights by isolating trends in the data and pinpointing the reasons behind them. It employs advanced generative pre-trained transformer — GPT — technology to analyze and interpret quantitative and qualitative data, and this enables us to identify significant trends and understand their underlying causes.”

Tastewise harvests data from rich soils: social media trends, recipe views, the menus of more than 4.5 million restaurants across nine markets and more. “This extensive database provides a holistic view of consumer preferences at every stage of the food consumption journey, empowering marketers and sales professionals with practical tools to respond promptly and strategically to emerging trends,” Saich said.

The platform even helps generate suggestions, content, recipes, packaging and marketing materials to reflect and communicate trends it finds. “We understand the importance of staying ahead in a dynamic market, and we crafted our end-to-end solution to support businesses in making informed decisions based on real-time data,” Saich explained.

Cooking up creativity

It’s certainly supporting ABC’s decisions. “Tastewise has already proven instrumental in helping ABC identify interesting paths to fulfill consumer snacking needs with almonds,” Grace said.

In fact, in evaluating Tastewise data around almonds and snacking, ABC noticed “consumers calling for more specific health claims and for flavors they perceive as more adventurous — like red bean, pandan and calamansi,” Grace explained. “We also found that reducing food waste is an opportunity for almonds to create a guilt-free experience.”

To bring these opportunities to life — and to reintroduce human creativity into the equation — ABC invited Chef Henry Hill of Hill’s Research Kitchen to cook snack concepts inspired by the insights, as well as almonds.

Hill shared his creations — an almond milk energy gummy, a “mangonada”-flavored almond biscuit stick and an almond-butter chili crisp — at a NOSH Live session that ABC hosted in November 2023.

The session introduced the audience to Tastewise and its platform, as well as to Chef Hill, his ideation process and how AI informs it. Calling Tastewise “my command station,” he sums up its value thusly: “A process that used to take many websites and data points is now distilled into a single window to the world of cuisine.”

Looking forward

That says it all, right? Not quite. Almonds still got the last word via Chef Hill’s snack trio, each item of which featured almonds in ways that speak to the flavor, functionality and food waste trends that bubbled up from the data.

Even that doesn’t close the book on the subject. “We’ll continue sharing trend updates throughout the year on for industry inspiration,” Grace said. After all, “California almonds are key ingredients that help brands and product innovators prepare for the future.” That’s something we can all look forward to.

About the Author(s)

Kimberly Decker

Contributing writer

Kimberly J. Decker is a Bay Area food writer who has worked in product development for the frozen sector and written about food, nutrition and the culinary arts. Reach her at [email protected].

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