McCormick – the creator of Old Bay and other spices, spices and spices – hopes the technology can help tantalize taste buds. It worked with IBM Research to build an AI system educated for decades with data on spices and flavors to come up with new flavor combinations.
Baltimore, Maryland-based company plans to bring its first series of AI-assisted products to the market later this year. The spice mix line, called One, for making a plate food, includes flavors such as Tuscan chicken and Bourbon pork.
Hamed Faridi, McCormick's Chief Science Officer, told CNN Business that he is using AI to reduce product development time, and that the company plans to use the technology to develop all new products by the end of 2021
In McCormick's case, the AI System was trained on data on raw materials, spice formulas, sales, trend forecasts and product consumption trials. It may suggest formulas (as for a new type of spice) that it foresees will be novel.
Faridi said that the company's developers – most of them food scientists, chemists, chemical engineers, nutritionists or cooks at training – usually make a new product by starting with a basic recipe (such as sauce or mustard) called a seed formula and built from there.
A potential product can go through 50 to 150 iterations before McCormick settles on a final formula, Faridi said. It will then be tested in a laboratory, with sensory experts and then with consumers. The whole process can take anywhere from two weeks to six months.
Faridi said McCormick's use of AI can reduce the time it takes to create a new two-thirds product.
Because getting products to the market quickly, it can be a problem for all types of consumer-oriented large companies, it is an attempt by Erin Lash, an analyst at investment researcher Morningstar covering the food and household and personal care industry.
"I think a number of companies are looking for ways to handle and lubricate wheels with their own innovation cycle," she said.
With AI, the recipe developer still identifies a seed formula to start and can set some parameters for ingredients that should not be replaced in a recipe. The system will propose new formulas, which McCormick's product developers can refine and taste, and then pass on to consumer testing (and perhaps eventually become real products). The system is also improving over time with developer feedback, according to Faridi.