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  • Writer's pictureDanielle van Hout

Eye on AI - December 16th, 2022

Welcome to Aigora's "Eye on AI" series, where we round up exciting news at the intersection of consumer science and artificial intelligence!


This week, we’ll be looking into how automation could replace food and beverage jobs before unpacking six CPG startups using AI to improve product creation.


AI May Soon Replace Many Restaurant Jobs

There has been a lot of positive news about the impact of AI within the food and beverage industry (deservedly so). Yet the adoption of any new technology will inevitably include some negative impacts. One such impact of AI, according to the article “Artificial Intelligence could steal your restaurant job. Here's how,” is the replacement of human workers within the food and beverage industry.

“Robotics and AI are becoming increasingly integrated into the food and beverage industry -- and by more than most people are aware of,” writes ZD Net contributor Jada Jones. “And although these tools help with real problems, it might be concerning how easily they can replace human workers.”

Consider the following: Popeyes and Panera Bread recently began partnerships with OpenCity, a startup touting an AI-powered drive-thru voice assistant; Yum Brands, the parent company of Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut, is testing AI-powered drive-thru lanes. Other tech used in quick-service restaurants cook, clean, and serve food. This new tech should increase restaurant efficiencies and lower costs. Yet the holistic cost of this type of technology in non-monetary terms is much more complex.

The rise in AI and robotics in the food and beverage industry can be directly correlated to our current labor shortages. Restaurants today have hundreds of thousands fewer employees than they did two years ago, according to the US Labor Department. Job loss within the service industry can be connected to service job insecurity brought on by the pandemic: the world went remote; in-person workers were laid off; now that the world is returning to in-person interactions, those same workers that were laid off or those just entering the workforce are reluctant to join the service industry due to positional instability. To fill those gaps, cut overhead, and improve efficiencies, companies have begun turning to AI and robotics in increasingly higher numbers.

“The ‘new automation’ of the next few decades—with much more advanced robotics and artificial intelligence (AI)—will widen the range of tasks and jobs that machines can perform, and have the potential to cause much more worker displacement and inequality than older generations of automation,” writes Brookings Institute contributor Harry Holzer. “This can potentially affect college graduates and professionals much more than in the past. Indeed, the new automation will eliminate millions of jobs for vehicle drivers and retail workers, as well as those for health care workers, lawyers, accountants, finance specialists, and many other professionals.”

Workforce replacement isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s a quiet revolution. Workers deeper into their careers may not be impacted. But for more entry-level or in-person dependent workers, the threat of automation to job security is real. It’s also not slowing down. For a deeper dive, check out the Brookings Institute article “Understanding the impact of automation on workers, jobs, and wages” or this VentureBeat article, “AI is quietly ending the world’s workforce with job automation.”

CPG Startups Are Banking on AI to Make Better Products

Putting job replacement concerns aside, what has become crystal clear is that AI is being used to improve a vast number of process efficiencies within the food and beverage industry. In fact, many CPG startups are banking on the use of AI for better product creation. The article “Will AI Make For Better CPG Products? These Startups Think So” looks at six such startups and their particular areas of focus.

“... one area of companies that seems to continue to raise interest is those that leverage ML and other forms of AI to power CPG decision-making, product development, and core ingredient development,” writes The Spoon contributor Michael Wolf. “Over the past couple of months, we’ve seen a bevy of startups raise funding, announce new products and tout their platforms for AI-powered CPG.”

Startups mentioned in the article range in focus from meat alternatives to smart packaging. Fractal AI’s autonomous decisioning platform, for example, unifies “demand planning, sales and distribution, inventory planning, and pricing and promotion” to increase growth opportunities in measurable ways, while the Bezos-backed NotCo is concentrated on producing meat alternatives. Widespread adoption of this kind of AI has been historically slow. But we’re now seeing somewhat of a snowball effect with larger implementations, one that’s well positioned to continue accelerating through economic instability as companies seek out new ways to improve efficiencies and lower costs.

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