If food companies had a crystal ball, one of the first things they’d ask is what trends consumers want next. Tastewise is hoping to answer that with something a little more reliable than clairvoyance or even focus groups.
“We talked to CPG companies and realized very quickly that they are still using the same traditional market research to understand what will come next for their categories, including a lot of surveys that are biased because they are asking 100 people what they think they want to have,” CEO, co-founder, and former Google exec Alon Chen told AFN. “If you really want to see what is coming in the future you have to be able to better understand what people are eating and drinking period This is what started our journey to actually look at data sets.”
The company on.Wednesday announced a $5 million Series A funding for its consumer trend prediction platform. The round was led by PeakBridge, a food tech-focused VC. The new capital will be used to further develop its technology and make hires.
“We’re dedicated to supporting companies that are focused on high-impact foodtech insights and solutions, like Tastewise, as they expand their AI platform development to gain deeper insights about trends that will change the future of the culinary industry,” said Erich Sieber, PeakBridge’s founder and managing partner. This is PeakBridge’s second investment since launching earlier this year.
Through a combination of 188,000 restaurant menus, 2.2 million recipes, and countless social media posts, Tastewise has amassed a titanic set of information about current food trends and consumer behavior. It then applies a variety of technologies like AI, natural language understanding, computer vision, and predictive analytics. The restaurant component has become particularly key to unlocking future food trends. Chen notes that the $1.5 trillion food industry is split between grocery sales and restaurant or prepared food sales, with the latter in the lead by $100 billion.
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Chen has learned that if a restaurant or recipe includes a new ingredient like ashwagandha, it is less important than what consumers might be saying about it. Social media has become a goldmine for this proposition as a place where countless consumers are discussing things like health, food, recipes, and trends.
Mining social media for insights
“I don’t care if someone added ashwagandha to a menu, what I care about is if consumers love it or see it as being good for lowering stress,” he explains. “This data set allows us to see not only that restaurants are adding collagen to meals, but that consumers like it because of skincare benefits, for example.”
Through the data analysis, Tastewise has seen a major uptick in functional food demand, with 37% of consumers looking for ways to meet health goals with each meal.Asked if people’s social media and raved about on social media had any true bearing on what consumers actually cared about, Chen told my colleague Richard Martyn-Hemphill on the sidelines of the FoodTechIL event in Tel Aviv earlier this week that integrating and crunching enough layers of data would be enough to give a highly accurate picture of segments.
“You can actually slice and dice the data,” he said, referring to how claims of liking or disliking could be verified in real time through AI integration and crunching of other data sets. The algorithms could also be trained to “filter out the noise,” while determining whether something like sauerkraut would be “the next big thing” in specific consumer segments. How about ifthe social media giants shut off the tap to some of that data? Unlikely, Chen replied, “The data we collect is 100 percent publicly available data.” He claimed as well that the company is “GDPR proof,” referring to strict data privacy laws in the European Union
In addition to its funding announcement, Tastewise has released a 2019 Food for Function report that identifies a number of major food and beverage trends:
- Provolone cheese and maple syrup are this year’s new weight-loss contenders.
- Pea protein is seeing growing popularity in the pursuit of wellness.
- Aside from being a festive, autumnal classic, the use of pumpkin has proved to be an anti-inflammatory candidate, increasing 243% on social media since last year
- Aside from its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, Moringa has become an increasingly popular option for natural energy functions
- Consumers are using fermented milk drink kefir and powdered Peruvian root maca for their natural antidepressant properties.
- CBD is seeing a significant rise in consumption for improved gut health (+286%), sleep (+201%), energy (+70%), and to improve the immune system(+138%).
- Consumers are drawn towards ingredients that support positive gut health: watermelon, peppermint to soothe digestive discomfort and leafy greens for fiber to support a healthy digestive process
Tastewise currently offers access to its data platform in a SaaS model, providing subscribers with a username and password that they enter to have unlimited access. This allows them to run countless queries and to explore the rapidly evolving world of consumer trends. Chen is hoping that his platform will soon replace what he sees as the antiquated and inefficient consumer survey process.
“It’s so costly and inefficient because it takes a while to come up with a question and even then people are biased to it and may sugarcoat their answers. The time-to-market race is so critical. By the time you create a survey, field it, obtain responses and analyze them three months have usually gone by and things may have changed.”
(Predicting consumer food trends out of Asia is one of AgFunder’s portfolio companies Ai Palette — find out more about them here.)