Photo: McCormick

Anyone else remember having to rummage through the deep, dark recesses of your spice cupboard in search of a bottle of peppermint extract, or maybe some “rubbed sage”? That’s where the McCormick brand has lived for most of my life.

Which is why it’s so interesting to see the spice giant branching out to leverage AI and data to create new flavors, personalized spice blends and even a grill that plays music based on what you’re cooking. That’s a hell of a leap from taco-seasoning packets.

This new tech-y push is led by Chief Science Officer Hamed Faridi, who will be at the Smart Kitchen Summit (SKS) with Richard Goodwin, IBM lead researcher, discussing their recent collaboration and AI-powered flavor platform. We emailed Faridi a few early questions because October was too long to wait. (Buy your SKS tickets now, they are going fast!)

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.

Lately McCormick has been combining flavor and AI, for example through its Flavorprint service and its partnership with IBM. Do you think this combination is a trend we’ll see more of?
Flavorprint service is provided by the Vivenda Corp. McCormick AI is currently under development via a partnership with IBM Research and is solely focused on new product innovation. We are assembling a database of 14,000 ingredients, over 400,000 formulations, millions of culinary recipes, and over a billion sensory and consumer data points loaded on a highly proprietary algorithm to be an inspiration partner for our product developers who are working in 20 labs located in 14 countries. It is a learning algorithm that becomes smarter and more innovative when receiving feedback from the developers using it on their daily product development activities.

What role do you envision large CPG companies such as McCormick playing in the future of food?
A lot. The large CPG should become more nimble and agile and respond quickly to the changing consumer taste, habit and experience. That is exactly what we have done in the past and will continue to do in the future.

In the coming decades our industry will be facing seismic changes. Among them is the unprecedented explosion of e-commerce that has disrupted the entire retail supply chain from end to end. The food industry will go through major M&A to stay competitive. The new generation of consumers, led by millennials, is forcing CPG companies to have a greater focus on transparency, natural and organic products, GMO, sustainability, and social responsibility.

Additionally, the information technology revolution will change almost everything we are doing today. Nutrogenomics and customized nutrition will transition from experimental to mainstream. And last but not the least, global warming, droughts, and loss of cultivable land and mass migration from rural to city centers are threatening all agriculture-based industries.

As the Chief Science Officer of McCormick, my number one responsibility is to turn all these seemingly insurmountable challenges into opportunities for accelerated growth, wealth creation, and competitive advantage. For example, e-commerce will provide unlimited shelf space which in turn will offer a platform for significant increases in new product introductions and mass customization. Advances in data analytics, artificial intelligence, and robotics will simultaneously make new product development better, faster, and cheaper. Potential loss of cultivable land lends itself to the exploration of aquaculture. There is never a dull moment in what I do day in and day out.

How does a large, established company like McCormick innovate and pivot to take advantage of fickle consumer trends?
By being committed to science-enabled innovation and acting nimbly.

What’s the one spice you couldn’t live without?
I love my cinnamon sprinkled over my breakfast every day. I never miss sprinkling black pepper, oregano and taragan on my salad for lunch and dinner. I love to have my tea with a dash of cardamom. My wife always adds a blend of turmeric, cinnamon, rosemary, cumin, and saffron to cooked rice she makes almost every evening that we eat at home.

Keep an eye out for more speaker Q&A’s as we ramp up to our fifth year of SKS on October 7-8 in Seattle! We hope to see you there.

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