How can AI understand the functional food market and the needs that drive it?

Most functional food trends are not merely driven by a mere liking of the food itself. The reason that they are ‘functional’ foods is that consumers want the function they provide, beyond the taste or texture of the food itself.

In order to understand the functional food market, one must first understand why consumers want certain functional foods.

Artificial intelligence, with its ability to take on such an abundance of data that it is frequently beyond human comprehension, can work well in illuminating this.

Israel-based Tastewise is one such platform working to understand functional food trends and the drivers behind them, co-founder and CEO Alon Chen explained. 

Analysing the market

Tastewise’s AI can analyse a vast swathe of sources. It looks at menus, social media platforms including Instagram, TikTok and Facebook, and more than 40,000 cooking sites. “With that we’re able to see how different audiences in different parts of the world are actually eating and drinking and why,” Chen told FoodNavigator at our recent Positive Nutrition Digital Summit.

We spoke to Tastewise’s Alon Chen about AI and the functional foods market.

The AI’s insights are not restricted to the present, however. It also has the capacity to predict future trends. Some of its predictions, Chen told us, have an accuracy rate of more than 90%.

“We try to go down to the human motivation.” Predicting a future trend is “not about the trend that just happened because someone posted something on TikTok, but what kind of deeper need consumers have.

Some trends in functional food

Tastewise’s Alon Chen listed some of the key functional food trends dominating the market:

  • Weight management
  • Gut health
  • Fitness
  • Hormone management
  • Menopause
  • Hydration   
  • Stress relief

While most functional food trends are driven by function first and food second, cottage cheese is an outlier. Cottage cheese has a range of functional benefits, fulfilling more than one role.

“Just eating a cottage cheese you know right after your gym exercise it’s a good way both to get the probiotics but also to gain the protein intake that you need,” Chen told us.

“So what we do is look at the very deep consumer motivation, and make sure we’re monitoring every single new recipe, every single new menu item, every single new invention that consumers respond to.”

The motivation is not the only thing that’s important, but also the source of this motivation. “Make sure you understand where the trend is coming from: if it’s just a bunch of people talking a lot about a new ingredient, maybe it’s not relevant, but when it’s starting to get into people’s home cooking, you’re actually able to innovate and push the boundaries.”

AI, Chen told us, is not the future but the present. “I believe we’ll see a lot more success. Companies will launch and innovate in new categories: more sustainable, healthier, maybe plant-based that actually works. Gen AI is here to stay, and it is already making a big impact on productivity, on success rates, and on the future of our planet as well.”

Streamlining NPD

As well as helping consumers to understand markets, AI also has the ability to streamline NPD.

Tastewise’s own TasteGPT tool is a large language model (LLM) with the ability to generate concepts. Taking an idea​, it can analyse menus and social media platforms for its potential success. It can then develop images, recipes, market insights, and even potential health claims.

Other companies​ have found AI a useful way of streamlining NPD as well. They can, according to the FMCG company Kraft Heinz, help one get ahead of a trend which, through the process of manual R&D, a manufacturer might miss.

AI’s streamlining of consumer insights, suggested snacks and drinks major PepsiCo, is also a boon for business, saving a lot of time doing surveys.

The meaning behind the trend

Understanding what​ is trending is only part of the process. The key to functional foods is the why. “The most challenging thing when you see a functional trend, is to really understand where is it stemming from, what is the consumer need.”

Tastewise, Chen told us, used to joke that the functional food trends boom was ‘the end of healthy eating,’ because no longer did consumers simply say ‘I want to be healthier’ but had a more laser-like focus on specific problems.

“They just say ‘I want something for my brain,’ ‘I want something for my muscles,’ ‘I want something for my gut, for my metabolism, for my bloating, and for my depression’. And so the big opportunity for the food industry lies in the fact that many products can solve different problems for different consumers in different moments.”

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