Editor's Plate: Wade Into AI With Us

Feb. 28, 2024
Dip your toes into artificial intelligence at your own pace and you should enjoy the water.

We’re probably a bit behind the times, but our magazine's March cover story is our first comprehensive look at artificial intelligence. We’ve done shorter stories before, examined AI in plant operations and one of my Editor’s Plates last year was largely written by ChatGPT. But in this cover story we talk about some practical applications: how AI can aid the product development process and work in the plant.

Actually, most of our plant operations stories over the past couple of years that emphasized automation were inherently talking about AI. Machine learning and big data all are components of AI, so you’ve probably been using a little AI whether you realized it or not.

Once again, I used ChatGPT (now on version 3.5) and typed in “Why is AI important for the food industry?” Within a second or two, the program spit out 302 words in answer:

AI is crucial to the food industry for several reasons:

1. Optimizing Production and Supply Chain: AI can analyze vast amounts of data to optimize agricultural processes, predict crop yields, monitor soil conditions, and manage logistics in the supply chain. This leads to increased efficiency and reduced waste.

2. Enhancing Food Safety: AI-powered systems can detect contaminants or foreign objects in food products with greater accuracy and speed than traditional methods. This helps in ensuring food safety standards are met and minimizing the risk of foodborne illnesses.

3. Improving Quality Control: AI can automate quality control processes by inspecting food products for defects, such as bruises or irregularities in shape, size, or color, ensuring only high-quality products reach consumers.

4. Personalized Nutrition: AI algorithms can analyze individuals' dietary habits, health data, and genetic information to provide personalized nutrition recommendations and develop tailored food products to meet specific dietary needs.

5. Enhancing Consumer Experience: AI-driven technologies, such as chatbots and virtual assistants, can provide personalized customer support, answer inquiries about products and dietary preferences, and even offer recipe suggestions based on individual tastes and dietary restrictions.

6. Innovation in Product Development: AI enables food companies to analyze consumer preferences and market trends more effectively, leading to the development of innovative products and flavors that better align with consumer demands.

7. Sustainable Agriculture: AI can help optimize resource usage in agriculture by monitoring water usage, reducing pesticide and fertilizer application, and promoting precision farming techniques, thereby promoting sustainable agricultural practices.

8. Forecasting and Demand Planning: AI algorithms can analyze historical sales data, weather patterns, and demographic trends to forecast demand more accurately, helping food companies better manage inventory and production schedules.

Overall, AI technologies offer numerous opportunities for the food industry to improve efficiency, quality, and sustainability while also providing enhanced experiences for consumers.


It’s pretty good but also pretty general. ChatGPT probably would have been happy to write our entire cover story, putting me and Andy Hanacek out of jobs. But I don’t think the result would have had the perspective of my 30 years of writing about food & beverage, nor Andy’s 20 years.

And that's one of the key points about using AI. Vinay Indraganti, one of the experts we talked to for this AI story, emphasized the human component. “AI in a context not related to food can work independently, be self-trained, but when it comes to food, the nuances, the emotions, the palate, the culture are so very intertwined, that AI changes from being artificial intelligence to augmented intelligence – human intelligence plus artificial intelligence.”

So, for now at least, I think our jobs are safe. We journalists have had to evolve from being strictly ink-on-paper guys to jacks of all digital trades – webinars, podcasts, social media and much more on our website, FoodProcessing.com, than we can fit into these skinny magazines. But I’m proud that we do continue to print a magazine, and thankful that 52,000 of you take the time to at least glance at it every month.

You’ve changed, too, of course, as have your companies. Jeff Harmening, chairman and CEO of General Mills, said last month in his presentation to the Consumer Analyst Group of New York that AI will “impact how we work and how we interact with consumers.” Since 2018, his company’s team of data scientists has increased 40-fold, “and we’ve gone from running 2,000 models per month to more than 6 million models that generate more than 500 million individual predictions on a monthly basis.”

How many of you saw data scientist as a key food & beverage job title a decade or two ago?

Altogether, 12 of the 13 food CEOs at CAGNY mentioned AI in their presentations last month – don't miss that story on p12 either.

The one constant is change, right? I think another constant in life is fear of change. Wade into AI at your own pace, don't dive into the deep end, maybe take some swimming lessons, and you'll enjoy the water.

About the Author

Dave Fusaro | Editor in Chief

Dave Fusaro has served as editor in chief of Food Processing magazine since 2003. Dave has 30 years experience in food & beverage industry journalism and has won several national ASBPE writing awards for his Food Processing stories. Dave has been interviewed on CNN, quoted in national newspapers and he authored a 200-page market research report on the milk industry. Formerly an award-winning newspaper reporter who specialized in business writing, he holds a BA in journalism from Marquette University. Prior to joining Food Processing, Dave was Editor-In-Chief of Dairy Foods and was Managing Editor of Prepared Foods.

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