How can the average restaurant owner hope to make sense of the capricious culinary industry when restauranteurs, culinary directors, and multinational corporations alike have a tough go of it? There are billions of dollars at stake (over $799 billion with respect to restaurants) in a market with razor-thin margins; a typical sit-down joint takes home just 3 to 5 percent in profit. It’s a lot of pressure.
Alon Chen, formerly Google’s chief marketing officer for Israel and Greece and global lead for the World Economic Forum, set out nearly two years ago to bring predictability to the frequently tumultuous world of food and beverage. Tastewise, which formally launches today, is the fruit of his and cofounder Eyal Gaon’s labor: a Tel Aviv-based startup with a platform that combines artificial intelligence (AI), predictive analytics, computer vision, and natural language processing to uncover gastronomic insights for restaurants, hospitality groups, and brands.
“Today, many of us are adventurous eaters, constantly searching for new food experiences, while prioritizing our health,” Chen said. “In this new environment, all consumer packaged goods [companies] and restaurants — whatever their size — have to become as dynamic as food trucks and popups. Tastewise provides the freshest analytics to help them stay at the forefront.”
How does it do that, exactly? By scanning billions of data points for each food-related query a customer enters. Tastewise looks over chatter on social media and a month’s worth of food photos (around a billion photos total), in addition to 13 million items across 153,000 menus from top restaurants and about a million home recipes. With that data in hand — plus proprietary machine learning algorithms trained to identify plating and presentation trends and recognize the sentiment around dishes and ingredients — Chen says the service can suss out not only current culinary trends, but dishes poised to become popular in the future.
Take Tastewise’s recent pizza market analysis, for example. It identified Philadelphia’s Blazin Flavorz cheese pizza pretzel bites as the category’s most buzzed-about dish, followed by Los Angeles-based Pizza Romana’s spicy fried chicken pizza. Pepperoni topped the list of popular ingredients, with chicken coming in a close second and bacon placing third. (Italian sausage and pulled pork were nearly tied for the “fastest-rising” meat ingredients.)
Using AI to predict food trends and stir up new recipes is nothing new, of course. IBM recently announced that it’s teaming up with McCormick & Company to create new flavors and foods with machine learning. IBM’s Chef Watson, a research project that sought to create new recipes by analyzing the chemical composition of hundreds of different ingredients, produced more than 10,000 novel recipes. (A cookbook of its creations was published in 2015.) And New York startup Analytical Flavor Systems’ platform — Gastrograph — taps sensory data and machine learning algorithms to suss out products’ flavor profiles and identify areas for improvement.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles-based Halla’s I/O platform uses AI to generate Netflix-like recommendations for grocery, restaurant, and food delivery apps and websites, in part by leveraging a database of restaurant dish, recipe, ingredient, and grocery item taste and flavor attributes. Others, like Foodpairing, Plant Jammer, and Dishq, offer proprietary recommendation systems that take into account personal preferences.
But Tastewise’s service is capable of far more than ingredient-by-ingredient breakdowns, Chen says. In a report published to coincide with the launch of the startup, its tools identified a $9 billion demand for healthy food restaurants across the U.S. (and 767 percent unmet demand for “hand-crafted food” in San Antonio), and pegged spam musubi, bone marrow, ube, and truffles as the new mainstays in American menus.
“By collaborating with Tastewise, we’ve been able to transform our strategy and decision-making with real-time industry data and predictive analytics,” Guy Heksch, global vice president of Marriott International-owned Pure Grey Culinary Concepts Hospitality Group, said in a statement. “Diving far deeper than simply understanding consumer preferences, their insights help us select target audiences, catch micro-trends as they sweep from neighborhood to state level, and design menus to suit our guests’ tastes, even pinpointing exactly what it takes to concoct a sensational cocktail.”
Tastewise — which counts Pico Ventures among its investors — offers access to cloud-based services starting at $299 per month.