What’s an AI-informed snack?

“Working with food, it’s very important to have sustainability.”

By and | 3 minute read | October 7, 2019

Pea and lentil snack cakes created using AI.

AI-inspired pea and lentil rice cakes. All photos via Cerealto Siro

“I think we’re very close to a revolution related to how we produce our food,” Carlos Herrero, Digital Transformation Director at Cerealto Siro Foods, told Industrious from his office in Madrid.

Cerealto Siro has 17 production centers throughout the world, including Spain, Portugal, Italy, Mexico and the United Kingdom. The company sells over 400,000 tons of products each year and holds efficiency and innovation as central values.

“It’s lucky for us,” said Herrero. “We are a company that loves to implement technology, to implement innovation to improve. It is in our core.”

In June, the company announced its first AI-informed snack— a pea and lentil rice cake—had hit shelves in the UK.

“The consumer is going to demand new products, more personalized products,” said Juan Carlos Martinez, Director of I+dea (an innovation group within Cerealto Siro Foods). “The technology needs to adapt to continuous changes. Manufacturers have to adapt their production lines in order to produce these different products for different needs.”

AI-informed snacks, like the sugar-free rice cake snacks, are made possible through I+Radar—a new tool built in partnership with IBM and I+dea. The tool leverages Watson and the IBM Cloud to mine social media, scientific journals and magazines, among other sources, for what the public craves most in the food they eat.

The tool can identify trends down to a hyperlocal level and even associate ingredients with particular emotions. Once deployed, I+Radar came back with results around a strong interest in low-sugar, high-protein foods and hearty grains like quinoa and spelt. Cerealto Siro then applied that data directly to the innovation process and finally to its production line.

“Customers want to be very healthy. Of course, this has impact in our work,” said Martinez. The results, he adds, “have been very, very good.”

In fact, Martinez believes the technology has fundamentally changed the way the team works.

Cerealto Siro’s Juan Carlos Martínez and Carlos Herrero

“Since we launched I + Radar last year we have developed hundreds of ideas, prototypes or products inspired by the opinions of consumers, gastronomic blogs or scientific websites,” he said. “With I + Radar we have access within hours to millions of opinions, or information related to food, brands, products—something that we did not always do because it was such an effort in time and resources. Now, all this information is either improving products or becoming new ones.”

But the success wasn’t achieved through technology alone, according to Herrero. A view into industry knowledge around the business case and practical application of the technology was of paramount importance.

“We found that IBM could relate our technology to a real case,” he said. “The most interesting step of the process was the discussion with IBM people about how to create the model.”

The results from I+Radar weren’t centered around ingredients alone. Data showed interest in sustainable and eco-conscious packaging and production as well, an area that Cerealto Siro intends to focus on in the coming years.

Cerealto Siro's I+dea Center

Cerealto Siro’s I+dea Center

“We need to be a sustainable company,” said Herrero. “Working with food, it’s very important to have sustainability. This is critical for us: a real sustainable economy, including the supply chain from the vendors to the final product reducing waste and looking for zero waste.”

Within Cerealto Siro, Herrero points to simplification of process and collaboration across silos as keys to making digital transformation happen.

“To work together is more and more important,” he said. “In the last three years, I’ve started talking with people I’ve never talked with [before]. Maintenance people, R&D people. Ten years ago, you had many, many silos.”

On the heels of the development of the I+Radar tool and looking towards a future of breakthroughs in sustainability, Martinez believes there’s an essential ingredient the company has gotten right.

“You can create what people are going to need in the future,” he said. “But you need, of course, the right team to create that innovation, and this has been an example of that.”