When Analytical Flavor Systems (AFS) CEO Jason Cohen talks about his company’s technology, it usually involves a story about helping a big food company. In particular, how AFS’s AI flavor platform, Gastrograph AI, can predict how a new product such as a bag of chips or energy drink might perform in a new country or with a new demographic group.
Ask him to tell you about his company’s flagship product in the future, though, and the conversation might well include discussing how it helped a robot chef decide what exactly to make us for dinner.
That’s because the New York-based startup has recently taken a corporate investment round from Sony, which late last year announced a dedicated project focused specifically on developing food focused AI and robotics technology.
According to Cohen, Sony’s investment team believes AFS’s technology could help them achieve their goal of creating robot chefs that know exactly what to cook.
“Once you get a food robot up and running, you don’t know what people are gonna want to eat, what they’re going to prefer, like and dislike,” said Cohen in a Zoom call.
But with a technology like Gastrograph, robots of the future might be able to more accurately predict flavor combinations consumers better than humans themselves.
“Consumers have no idea what they like and dislike,” said Cohen. “They’re actually really bad at determining whether, say, they want more vanilla in their vanilla cup. You ask them and they say ‘yes’, you put it down and they want less. Sony recognized that and that’s what part of this investment is for: future innovation and growth, to help them accomplish their goals of getting cooking robots into every home.”
In addition to Sony, AFS also took on corporate investment from BASF. According to Cohen, the German conglomerate’s plant breeding and genomics program is interested in using Gastrograph AI to help them in seed development so they can ultimately predict with a higher success rate with the crops they are breeding.
“It takes a really long time, anywhere from a year to a couple of years, even decades, on some crops, in order to breed in specific traits,” said Cohen. “And so they work with us to rapidly screen and profile the fruits that they are market leaders in, or the fruits that they want to become market leaders in, and to breed better seed stock that they can then sell to farmers in different countries around the world.”
While Cohen wouldn’t disclose the amount of investment from Sony and BASF, he did say that this was an in-between “corporate”round that they had been discussing with the two strategic investors before COVID hit, so when everything shut down in March of last year things were “already in place.” Next year, said Cohen, he expects the company will raise a Series A round of funding.
Speaking of COVID, I asked Cohen how his company did this past year, and he said their core business of working with CPG innovation teams actually benefitted because as companies wanted to keep the innovation pipelines moving during a time of severe travel restrictions and AFS’s technology allowed them to do that. Since the normal big food practice of testing products in-market with focus groups curtailed during lockdowns, some companies relied on Gastrograph AI’s technology to predict how a new product might do.
This recent investment follows a 2018 seed round investment of $4 million.