Tastewise, a startup that uses data and AI to help CPG companies gain deeper insights into food trends, announced today it has raised a $5 million Series A round led by food tech investment firm PeakBridge. The round brings Tastewise’s total funding to $6.5 million.

The Tastewise platform, which launched in February of this year, analyzes over 1 billion food photos shared each month, along with a database of U.S. restaurant menus that numbers over 180,000 at this point. The goal of the platform is to provide CPGs and other food companies with granular information about not just what foods are trending but why they’re popular. Companies working with Tastewise can use this data to get a faster, more accurate view of what consumers are looking for with their food, and to create the kinds of products they’ll actually buy.

Over the phone this week, Tastewise CEO Alon Chen used sauerkraut as an example of how the Tastewise platform operates. Right now, according to him, it’s a popular food, but the trend is less about raw cabbage and more about the process behind it, which is fermentation. Of late, fermentation’s become a popular item on consumers’ food lists in part because of its associations with good digestive health as well as brain health. Food companies analyzing data via the Tastewise platform can see such data and consider how they might implement fermentation into their offerings.

“If you want to be ahead of the game and you want to make sure you’re not just hopping on a fad, you need to understand these deeper trends,” says Chen.

Plant-based meat is another hot topic he mentions. Right now, it’s hard to dispute the popularity of plant-based alternatives to meat, beef in particular. But rather than simply follow the lead set by companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, CPGs should instead analyze the data around these trends to they can ask 1) Why people eat meat in the first place and 2) What are their motivations for wanting plant-based alternatives. As Chen says, food companies need to ask, “Is my protein going to actually help these causes?”

Tastewise has bundled these topics and more into its latest new report, also released today and based on findings from Tastewise data, called “Putting Food to Work in the Age of Wellness.” The report looks at the global functional foods market, projected to reach 275 billion by 2025, and examines “a category of ingredients, meals, and preparations that serve a particular function and purpose beyond mere sustenance.” In the context of the report, functional foods include those ingredients and meals that promote things like sleep, weight loss, stress relief, brain health, gut health, and focus, to name a few of the categories mentioned.

Meanwhile, Chen says the new funds will go towards expanding and improving Tastewise’s computer vision analysis in order to further train its AI to “understand the depth of the consumer motivation” behind certain food and ingredient choices.

There is some competition for Tastewise in this sector, from players like Analytical Flavor Systems and Spoonshot, who use AI to help CPGs predict food trends and consumer behaviors. However, the Tastewise platform differentiates itself somewhat by focusing more on analysis of behavior than flavor, acting almost as a fast-tracked version of market research that relies on real-time data rather than focus groups and surveys.

“We have a responsibility to better understand consumers,” says Chen, adding that the AI components in a platform like Tastewise are “critical to moving faster” in terms of helping companies decide which areas of food to focus on and products to develop. Now we’ll see if this new funding helps Tastewise move fast enough to edge out the competition.

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