Spanish food producer Cerealto Siro Foods believes that the ‘future and sustainability of the sector’ is linked to ‘digital transformation’, according to research and development director Juan Carlos Martínez.
“We are promoting a strong process of digital transformation, led by the IT team, to be more agile with our customers and innovate, launching new products of the highest quality that meet the needs of consumers [and are] adapted to current nutritional trends,” he told FoodNavigator.
The Spanish cereal manufacturer, which produces a range of food from cookies and crackers to pasta and bread, was born from the merger of Siro and Cerealto. It is a multinational company that manufactures cereal-based food products, supplying clients from the retail and B2B sectors.
With a consolidated turnover of more than €600m, Cerealto Siro says its strategy is to focus on ‘high doses of innovation’ that offer potential for development in multiple markets.
In 2018, the Palencia-based company racked up an accumulated investment of more than €13m in innovation. The company launches more than 250 cereal products into global markets each year. And, in partnership with IBM, the group has developed an AI platform that it claims will speed its development pipeline.
I+Radar ‘monitors and predicts’ consumer attitudes
The platform, I+Radar, collects data from various sources, including newspapers, magazines, blogs, reviews, reports and Twitter. The tool incorporates the artificial intelligence features of IBM Watson, such as Watson Knowledge Studio, Watson Natural Language Understanding and Watson Discovery News through IBM Cloud and 'listens' to what consumers and social media experts say.
Jaime Calero, cognitive expert for the food industry at IBM Services, explained that all of the data, with the exception of Twitter, is collated from an IBM news aggregator - API [application programming interface] enriched with AI capabilities. Twitter data is collected from the Twitter API.
“The data is extracted on a daily basis and there is another model to predict early trends that runs every week.”
Cerealto Siro leverages this data to identify new, trending food preferences. I+Radar can predict what ingredients are trending and even associate emotions and activities with specific food types. It also keeps the company’s marketers up-to-date with changing consumer attitudes about the food system.
“I+Radar offers us in an agile way to access information on incipient tendencies, from ingredients, claims, products, consumers. [It also provides insight into] other characteristics that give the consumer value, for example, sustainability, packaging and technology,” the cereal maker’s R&D chief noted.
From data points to innovation
Collecting the data on what consumers and the media are saying is just the first step in the process that allows Cerealto Siro to turn this information into actionable insight.
The next phase, ‘information processing and big data analysis’, puts the data through an AI ‘filtering system. This ‘eliminates the noise’, Martínez explained. “Continuously, a team of experts in market research and engineers evolve the cognitive artificial intelligence, programming and training it through Natural Language Understanding (NLU) for the cognitive recognition of information and the development of mathematical algorithms to gain precision in the analysis.”
IBM’s Calero added that the system is ‘a solution developed for a specific client’ meaning that Cerealto Siro has exclusivity over the AI’s ‘learnings’. “IBM can leverage the architecture, however, the model trained with client data is property of the client,” he explained.
Phase three is to ‘step through the algorithm’, Martínez continued. This involves the application of cognitive AI ‘designed and owned’ by the company to analyse the big data after it has been collected and filtered. “This allows us to identify trends, as well as to know the feeling and emotion towards the different topics.”
Finally, the results are displayed in a ‘simple’ user-friendly way that allows the ‘agile graphic interpretation of thousands of data points’. This is used by Cerealto Siro to make decisions on new product innovation and evaluate and improve upon the performance of existing products, the innovation leader claimed.
Cutting development time ‘from months to weeks’
Cerealto Siro said that the tool has enabled it to reduce development time for new products from ‘weeks to months’.
An example of a product that has been produced using the tool is a new pea and lentil rice cake launched in the UK. The NDP stemmed from an observation about the growing popularity of high-protein, organic foods that are suitable for vegans and celiacs.
“We knew we wanted to respond to the demand for high protein products, so we selected those specific raw materials,” Martínez elaborated.
Benefits of working this way included reducing uncertainty and costs. “We avoided cost in the development of pilot and industrial plant tests, with different alternatives, to test with the consumer.” Savings are also made in terms of traditional market research.
“I+Radar allows us to respond much faster. We can make the right decisions regarding the characteristics best valued by consumers in the target market to provide our clients with global solutions in an agile manner, according to their needs.”
Future gazing with I+Radar
In fact, Cerealto Siro has been surprised by just how adaptable and effective the i+Radar tool has proven.
“The results obtained so far, confirm the important role that cognitive artificial intelligence already has… The main surprise with the tool and the algorithm is that we can adapt to any sector and need internally, very quickly. In addition to co-creating with the final consumer, we evaluate their feelings regarding the launch and/or improvement of new products. We investigate the most appropriate raw materials and compare them with other products,” Martínez said.
Cerealto Siro sees a bright future for the role of AI and other digital technologies in the food system.
So, what does that future hold? Looking at the results of the tool, Cerealto Siro revealed products with less sugar, less salt, less additives, less fat, more fiber and more protein are what consumers demand today. The company said there is also rising interest in the use of ancestral grains such as quinoa, millet, spelled, oats or chia seeds.