How Data Informs Food Innovation

by | May 11, 2023 | General BI

Reading Time: 4 minutes

It is widely known that every industry uses data in one way or another. What is less widely known is exactly how they use that data. An organization can collect information on anything. The trick is figuring out which information is worth focusing on to produce effective change for a product or a process.

Companies in the food industry can collect data for everything from marketing to tracing food’s origins through a supply chain to what kind of packaging is best. They also spend a lot of time – sometimes many years – developing new products. So put down that snack you’re eating as we look at how data informs food innovation. And then pick up that snack again because maybe you’ll want to consider how data may have played a role in its origin.

Traditional uses of analytics

Not every aspect of the way data is used in the food industry is unique. Just like other industries, there are metrics solely devoted to elements like sales and marketing. Food companies track customer behaviors to measure satisfaction and loyalty, using the information to guide decisions around which products to stock or whether to offer a promotion.

Increasingly, organizations in the food industry are looking at how to be more sustainable, whether that is in the early stages of a supply chain or in the final packaging that customers receive. This can be one area where the innovation begins to set the industry apart.

Innovation to solve a problem

Domino’s recently ran an ad for its new Loaded Tots, and the video offered a look at some of the work that goes into developing a new product. Often, the process begins with a problem – in this case, the fact that customers were unhappy with how fries arrived at their homes, however many minutes from when they left the store. “They’re soggy and they don’t deliver well,” as one of the franchise owners says in the commercial.

Since Domino’s is such a delivery-focused organization, this was something the company needed to address. Instead of fries, Domino’s came up with the tater tots filled with pizza toppings, something that the company says lends itself better to the delivery process. This not only made customers happy, which is good for business, but the company also avoided food waste by producing a satisfactory product rather than one that might end up just being thrown away. The ad includes interviews with the product’s development team from Domino’s, as well as video illustrating that once the product was developed, it took more than 30 delivery tries to make sure it was done right.

Other companies are tackling the same problem in a different way. SAVRpak developed an adhesive for to-go packaging that, when attached to the inside of the package, absorbs the moisture that causes delivered food to get soggy. The company touts its use of thermodynamics to stop condensation and by doing so, to help eliminate food waste.

Innovation resulting in new products

Sometimes the innovation process begins with a creative idea rather than a problem that needs to be solved. Taco Bell’s Innovation Kitchen is responsible for developing new products. Once it has an idea it needs to make sure the recipe components can be prepared in vast quantities, and that the items can be cooked in a minute or less. The innovation team is made up of engineers and quality-assurance specialists, and as with any other kind of data, metrics need to be consistent. Items that are tested against one another need to include consistent elements such as, for example, each shred of cheese needing to be a specific number of centimeters long.

When it comes time for the tests, the Innovation Kitchen collaborates with the Taco Bell Sensory Panel. Cameras monitor testers’ reactions, and data points are collected on everything from whether an item is too hot to elements like mouthfeel, aroma, and crunch. (In the development process, a steel device mimics a chewing mouth to test factors like the perfect breaking point of a chip.)

Other companies in the food industry conduct similar tests, and it can take years for an idea for a new product to finally reach consumers. Knowing what kind of information you need to collect and having the right solution in place to analyze the data is as important as the original idea that kickstarts the process. Every new idea in the food industry can lead to countless data points that might be measured. It’s important to have a system in place to make sense of that data, for the benefit of both the organization and the customers.


John Sucich
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