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In the 1982 movie Tron, the inner workings of a computer included tiny people riding motorcycles and throwing deadly frisbees. Somewhat counterintuitively, if a Tron movie were made today about the modern inner workings of computer artificial intelligence, it would be far less exciting, with just those same tiny people in tiny white coats conducting tinier experiments around the clock, non-stop.
OK, that’s kinda silly, but that kinda is what’s happening in food tech AI right now. Over the past few weeks we’ve written about funding for three different startups using AI to do experimentation grunt work inside a computer before the real world work begins.
Yesterday, Brightseed announced that it raised $27 million in new funding for its AI-based approach for uncovering phytonutrients in plants. Basically, Brightseed’s Forager AI examines plants on a molecular level to find hidden compounds, predict what health benefits those compounds might have, and figure out how to source those compounds.
Brightseed’s AI is doing a lot of the leg work so when it is time to go into a real (or “wet”) lab, startups are more efficient with their time and resources. Brian Frank at FTW Ventures recently referred to this ideas as computational biology, but it’s also the idea behind synthetic data used for training robots.
In addition to Brightseed, we’ve also covered Spoonshot, which uses AI to make novel flavor combination predictions. Spoonshot also recently launched its Concept Generator, which basically allows CPG companies to develop an entire product virtually (complete with ingredients list) before actual physical prototyping starts. Climax Foods, which launched earlier this month, is turning data into plant-based cheese. The company uses machine learning frameworks to predict what kind of food different combinations of raw ingredients and compounds will yield. In the case of cheese – ingredient X + compound Y = this type of flavor and texture.
The idea of computational biology or synthetic data or AI algorithms modeling new products isn’t new, but it seems like we are at the beginning stages of it going mainstream. If this works as, well, predicted, it could unlock entirely new types of foods, flavors and more.
It could also give real world lab workers a little bit of a break, which they could maybe use to watch Tron.
Consider the Fridge
But let’s move away from the fictional people inside your computer and into the very real stuff inside your fridge.
Be honest, will all of what you currently have in your fridge make it on to your plate? Probably not. A fair amount of it will probably get tossed.
I don’t bring up your thrown-out broccoli to shame you, but rather to point you to an interesting piece by my colleague Jenn Marston. Well, two pieces she wrote, actually, both of which deal with food waste.
Food waste is a huge problem, and a lot of it happens on the consumer end. What if, Jenn writes, we thought about our fridges differently as an easy way to to trim our food waste fat:
“… the fridge design itself seems ripe for an upgrade. Or downgrade, as it were, since a smaller fridge compartment with a bigger freezer might be a surefire way to reduce food waste. Much of our food, even items like milk and bread, can be frozen until we need to use them. And research shows that things like frozen fruits and vegetables maintain more or less the same nutrients as their fresh counterparts.”
Changing up the fridge, however, is just one tactic the fight against food waste. Jenn also debuted a new deep dive market report for our Spoon+ membership service. The Consumer Food Waste Innovation Report details the scope of the at-home food waste problem, technologies being implemented to help stem that waste and a landscape of the startups that are tackling the issue.
H-E-B to Use Swisslog for Automated Micro-Fulfillment – The Texas grocery chain becomes the latest to look at robots to keep up with grocery e-commerce.
Surplus Food Startup Hungry Harvest Closes Series A Round at $13.7M – Speaking of fighting food waste, Hungry Harvest rescues “ugly” produce and other staples from groceries to help curb waste and redistribute food to those in need.
The CDC’s New Findings Put Restaurant Tech In the Hot Seat Once Again – Restaurants may increase the risk of catching COVID, what does that mean for all this contactless restaurant tech?
National Restaurant Assoc.: Nearly 1 in 6 Restaurants Closed During Pandemic – Roughly 100,000 restaurants in the U.S. have closed either for the long-term or permanently, the trade association found.
Beyond Meat Launches New Plant-Based Meatballs – The plant-based meat giant makes a play for convenience (and your pasta).