What should you eat tonight? That question can be tricky to answer, especially if you’re trying to use up leftovers while feeding folks with diverse eating preferences and dietary restrictions.
It’s also the exact question that Erik Andrejko is trying to solve. Andrejko is the CTO of Meal Hero (formerly wellio), a personalized meal planning app that’s part of Kraft-Heinz’s Evolv group. At The Spoon’s Customize event in NYC next week, he’ll be speaking about how AI is the secret sauce that will shape the food personalization revolution.
So how exactly will AI reinvent data, discovery, public policy and more within the food ecosystem? You can learn some of the answers by reading Andrejko’s Q&A below, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you want the full story you’ll have to see Andrejko speak at Customize next week! Use code SPOON15 to save 15 percent on your tickets.
Tell us a little bit about what Meal Hero does, and how it fits within Kraft Heinz.
At Meal Hero, we are empowering people to improve their lives by eating well. The consumer relationship with food is evolving, and we see supporting personalized food experiences, in particular supporting home cooked meals, as an essential part of a broader strategy of nourishing a growing world.
To that end, we have developed a personalized meal planning application that connects seamlessly to digital grocery fulfillment. It solves the problem of “what’s for dinner tonight?” for the 89 million US households that cook dinner 5+ times a week, making those occasions tasty, nourishing, convenient, and personalized to each household’s needs.
What are some opportunities to bring customized dining into the consumer kitchen?
Dining at home is a complex challenge with multiple participants. One household we studied led by Susan, a working mom of three, exemplifies this complexity. Susan’s decision-making process starts in the morning as she glances at her fridge while cooking breakfast to determine what to use up for dinner. She then revisits the decision at the end of her workday, going through a complex decision tree that takes into consideration the ingredients she has available, one kid’s tree nut allergy, two kids’ distaste for spicy food, and her own desire to make something pescatarian at a reasonable cost before deciding that she can make fish tacos. As shopping for the missing ingredients and cooking take longer than expected, she’s forced to give the kids some snacks, and by the time the meal is ready, the kids are no longer hungry. We can reduce or eliminate the obstacles that people like Susan face in realizing their aspirations to nourish their households through software technology that embodies the expertise of a personal chef, a personal nutritionist, and a personal shopper.
What’s the biggest challenge facing companies trying to tap into consumer demand for personalization?
The biggest challenge centers around data: gathering it, organizing it, and sharing it. The cold-start problem is well noted in the field of data science and continues to be a hurdle for food personalization as companies struggle to initially gather or generate useful data. Once sufficient data is gathered, a system must be devised that is comfortable working with natural inputs and outputs to derive domain intelligence, which we have done with our Food Intelligence Platform. For the system to improve, it must continuously ingest data from users, whose app fatigue can impede the learning process if the system cannot yet generate sufficient value to combat abandonment. Finally, no firm operates in a vacuum with only its consumers, so the whole value chain must mobilize to adopt standardization, transparency, and accessibility of data.
What do you think personalized food or drink will look like 5 years down the road?
Personalization will evolve to hyper-personalization as consumers’ expectations in the food domain increase over time to match those in other, more digitally mature domains (e.g. entertainment). We see that evolution occurring in the following sequence:
1. Convenience – How do we bridge the gap from the 80 percent of consumers who use digital tools for grocery planning and discovery to the 3 percent of grocery transactions that occur online? As consumer adoption of digital grocery grows, the connectivity from planning & discovery to commerce must become seamless.
2. Lifestyle – Diet and lifestyle-based digital shopping journeys are increasingly becoming available, but none close the loop on going from what to eat to getting access to them conveniently and at a reasonable cost.
3. Health – Food as medicine is just beginning to kick into gear. In about 5 years, we see food tech and health tech converging to create new and powerful consumer experiences. While we see this beginning to happen in pockets, it is not at scale.
In order for the food ecosystem to deliver on those personalized consumer values, a complete evolution is necessary across the value chain (ie: in data, discovery, public policy, standards, etc.). AI will be critical in accelerating the solutions to these challenges.