What advances is AI making in bakery and snacks?

By Natasha Spencer-Jolliffe

- Last updated on GMT

Tech is helping transform bakery and snack businesses. Pic: GettyImages
Tech is helping transform bakery and snack businesses. Pic: GettyImages

Related tags AI Artificial intelligence Machine learning personalised nutrition Automation Technology

Hint: The evolution of artificial intelligence (AI) is less to do with glossy marketing campaigns and packaging visuals and more about uncovering the mystery of algorithms and getting a better handle on supply chain data.

AI-generated bakery and snack images have created an enhanced buzz​ around the ever-advancing technology. Yet, AI’s capabilities go far beyond aesthetics. The tech is helping transform bakery and snack businesses through automation, optimising processes and even teaching others all about the industries.

“AI has the power to revolutionise our industry,” said Alex Lloyd, head of Organic Acquisition at January, when talking to Bakery&Snacks about the tech’s role in the bakery and snack sectors.

Agency belongs to the individual

One area AI strives to excel is democratizing access to bakery and snack products and services. Making food choices available to consumers - regardless of budget, location, allergens and sensitivities or lifestyle preferences - calls on tech companies to examine and implement advancing AI.

Digital shoppers are an avid consumer market, propelled by rising mobile commerce, the Covid-19 pandemic and the expansion of online delivery and click-and-collect services. Maximizing convenience, ease and the overall user experience for bakery and snack consumers is at the core of AI applications.

“AI and machine-learning technologies play a pivotal role in the baking and snacking industries, transformed by the growth of online delivery services,” a spokesperson for Wolt told this site. AI has become a vital piece of the supply chain and operational pie.

​With more consumers opting for the convenience of home delivery, AI facilitates seamless interactions, from personalized product suggestions to efficient order fulfilment."

Wearables and health sensors are often expensive, making AI-driven product knowledge more accessible to the mass consumer market. Increasingly, brands like January are developing apps that mean they are not necessary either. Free apps can contain a wealth of health info consumers can use to optimize their diet.

“As AI tools become more ubiquitous, consumers will have more insight into the food and snacks they eat, meaning supplies will need to adapt and ensure they’re providing foods that meet these requirements,” Lloyd added.

Proactive and preventative health

Food-based predictive AI company January works with the tech to help people gain insights into their health. More than one in three Americans suffer from prediabetes and 81% don’t know they have it, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). January is built on the idea that understanding the impact our food has on our blood sugar is critical to curbing the chronic disease.

“Our AI technology allows consumers to see the predicted glucose impact a food has before they eat it so they can make the best decision possible for their health goals,” said Lloyd.

AI guides product development

Predictive AI company January is working with large corporations like Nestle to help it leverage AI technology - a move others will likely replicate as calls for product knowledge, transparency and traceability throughout the bakery and snack sectors continue.

“We expect other companies to follow suit and lean into the advances in AI to help with their product development,” Lloyd confirmed.

“As people rely more on these technologies to help guide their nutritional choices, our hope is manufacturers, in turn, will evolve their nutritional profiles to focus on healthier ingredients and ultimately aid in tackling the global rise in chronic disease."

AI is reaching parts of the bakery and snack sectors we may not have thought about, like teaching top-level patisserie theory, ingredients and techniques. Built on AI, the instructor-led platform Pastry Class provides instruction on how AI is revolutionizing the baking industry by enabling precision, creative recipes, efficient planning, personalized services, smart marketing, quality control and robotic assistance. Industry players can then utilize this innovation to boost their customer experiences.

AI is essential for optimizing production in bakeries. Automated systems powered by AI can accurately measure ingredients, ensuring consistency and quality in every batch of baked goods. Precision improves the overall product and contributes to cost-effectiveness and waste reduction.

In today’s culinary landscape, AI algorithms are revolutionizing recipe development, too. By analyzing extensive datasets, AI can uncover novel flavor pairings and probe recipe modifications. Bakeries can then feel confident to experiment with diverse ingredients, texture, and methods to create novel and cutting-edge pastries. AI can also enhance existing recipes by fine-tuning taste, texture and nutritional value.

Entering the next era

Finnish bakery Vaasan has partnered with IBM to implement AI into its 172-year-old business to improve its overall planning and forecasting capabilities. AI is central to many bakery and snack brands’ digital transformation plans. Businesses can use the tech to help remove tedious, manual and demanding tasks from their business operations and replace them with modern automation to optimize their processes.

Similarly, AI is at the forefront of Japanese indulgent snack producer Glico, marking the latest milestone in its 100-year-old history. With consumers growing increasingly health-conscious and the sector rapidly evolving with new product developments, Glico is enlisting the support of AI experts to help progress its healthier food production.

Big brands are bringing generative AI into their communications, too. Mars, for instance, is using generative AI in its corporate and marketing communications, predominantly to help craft fun and creative messaging, as reported by PEX Network.

AI is also changing the way bakeries engage with customers by providing personalized experiences. By analysing data, AI systems can gain valuable insights into consumer preferences, decision-making considerations and behaviour. Bakery and snack brands can then offer personalized recommendations, storytelling, promotions and custom-made pastry products to attain customer satisfaction and build brand loyalty.

Future-proofing business

Accurately predicting customer demand is a significant challenge in the bakery business. AI algorithms can examine historical sales data, local events and weather patterns to anticipate demand with more precision. Bakeries can therefore optimize production, minimize waste and ensure popular items are never out of stock.

Maintaining the highest quality and food safety standards is crucial. AI-powered systems can monitor production processes in real-time and spot system failures, irregularities and potential operational risks. Adopting a proactive approach enhances product quality and ensures compliance with food safety regulations.

Bakeries can use AI-powered robotic systems to handle repetitive tasks. Businesses can therefore give operational elements like mixing, shaping and baking to AI, and leave more complex and creative tasks to humans.

AI-powered tools are changing how bakeries approach marketing and social media engagement, too. These solutions can analyze social media trends, predict sought-after ingredients and flavors, and help bakeries develop comprehensive marketing strategies. Automated social media tools can manage online interactions, respond to customer inquiries and enhance online brand identities to build connections and engagements.

Tracing transparency

McKinsey reports that 60% of organizations used generative AI in 2023 - calling it the tech’s 'breakout year'. With this number expected to rise, Wolt believes algorithmic transparency is non-negotiable. Lifting the veil on AI and opening up the dialogue on concerns, confusion and complexities surrounding the advanced tech plays a significant part in enhancing digital safety.

As awareness around algorithmic transparency grows, bakery and snack businesses can better understand how to navigate the AI’s legal landscape, safeguard and manage their access to their online platforms and improve customer service.

Currently, the AI regulatory landscape lacks harmonisation. A lack of universal standards such as GDPR​ (General Data Protection Regulation) and the EU Act​ to guide implementation often results in unreported audits. Consequently, AI may remain an elusive and fear-inducing burden rather than a tool to help connect bakery and snack brands and their products with engaged consumers.

In May 2024, Finnish food-based technology company Wolt published its Algorithmic Transparency Report designed to help bakery and snack brands understand how AI works. According to Wolt, algorithmic transparency refers to the efforts that shine a light on otherwise hidden computational processes. It works to provide transparency to both individual consumers and collective organizations.

Utilising AI, Wolt enables customers to order from restaurants and grocery stores using one app. The tech company has partnered with leading retail names, including Tesco, Carrefour, Spar and 7-11, to connect consumers to baked goods and snack products. In the report, Wolt details the algorithms behind its food-based app, which includes enabling merchants to manage orders, its venue and menu and ascertaining courier partner’s availability, location, delivery vehicle and specialist capabilities.

Transparency means bakery and snack players can run algorithms to understand their decisions.

“If provided with the right information, users gain control,” Dr Johann Laux, a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, wrotes in the report.

“They can decide whether to trust an algorithm and, if necessary, challenge an algorithmic decision."

From a broader collective perspective, transparency allows society to explore if algorithms systematically disadvantage certain groups.

“Discrimination is often caused by the data that is fed into an algorithm,” added Dr Laux.

To achieve a fair playing field within the bakery and snack sectors, algorithmic transparency needs to increase. Tools available to brands - such as technical standards and reporting practices sensitive to the rights and interests of those impacted - also need to therefore grow, said Dr Laux.

Amid current debates on AI’s future role and how it should be regulated, brands should strive to inform and educate the bakery and snack segments, along with consumers, in the hope of conveying the possibilities of AI over its associated concerns.

“Never has it been more important to share information in a clear and understandable way so that customers and partners can better understand their interactions with us, hold us accountable and improve their overall experiences on our platform,” concluded Vincent Ho-Tin-Noe, chief product officer of Wolt.

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