How Data and AI Help Companies Reduce Waste and Improve Food Production
Analytics might be seen as a corporate tool to boost revenues and gather insights on customers but now the food industry is taking a piece of the data pie to help reduce waste and improve production.
One of the ways this is being done is through commercial kitchens. Winnow is a UK-based company that uses AI to help reduce waste within kitchens in hotels, cruise ships, restaurants and catering businesses.
The company installs hardware in the kitchen to be able to monitor food waste and give the data back to the team so they can make effective decisions on product operations.
Maxime Pourrat, managing director APAC of Winnow said by understanding how much kitchens waste, they can understand how much they should produce, reducing food waste and improving the bottom line.
The system has three components – a scale, a tablet and a camera, all connected to the cloud. A bin sits on the scale so when someone throws out food, the weight is calculated automatically by the scales, the camera takes a picture and AI technology is able to recognise what the food is and tell you how much it costs to throw out.
One of the challenges of reducing waste is the consistency of the business. Pourrat said no one wants to change their behaviour in the beginning so it takes time to get everyone on board making sure the system is used properly and they get enough data to take action.
“Food waste is getting more and more important on the agenda for everyone but it’s still not on top of the list. There are a lot of other topics that have to be addressed before food waste. So one of the hardest parts is to push the food waste on top of the agenda,” he explained.
A trend Pourrat is seeing is how unaware commercial kitchens are of how much food is wasted. He said using the software to show people the data is changing behaviours.
Pourrat said sustainability is becoming less of an option and more of a necessity for businesses.
“I get comments from people who say, ‘we need to put this in front because the newer generation won’t want to work for a company if we don’t show that we are engaged in the system as the front’.
“There is an importance of being able to get the right talent and keep them and also from a business sense to do so.”
Winnow has a goal of saving US$1billion worth of food by 2025. Pourrat said the company believes this can be achieved by having the software used by top hotel brands and have them benchmark on what is food waste and publish the targets that they all put forward.
Improving Food Production
Before the food even gets to the supermarket, farmers are beginning to use data and AI to yield better crops and get more out of a season.
Australian agtech company, The Yield has a solution called Sensing+ that combines sensors and analytics to provide information and predictions in easy-to-use apps helping large commercial growers make important on-farm decisions like when to irrigate, feed, plant, protect and harvest.
Ros Harvey, founder and managing director of The Yield said the company is focused on taking the guesswork out of growing.
“The biggest guesswork of them all is driven by weather, as it’s the one thing that a grower can’t control. Everyone who sells in and buys out of a farm is effectively really impacted by this uncertainty problem.
“What Sensing+ does is we measure in real-time, the 14 variables that drive all agricultural models things like wind, rain, light and relative humidity soil moisture.
“What we do is we use artificial intelligence to predict it at that point, then we put it into really easy to use applications that help growers make decisions about when to irrigate, when to feed and when to harvest their crops.”
The agtech company has also developed a module for predicting yield. This is being used by food producer Costa Group, using the Sensing+ technology across eight berry farms in NSW, QLD and Tasmania.
Harvey said, “What we do is we combine this weather data which is what is used to grow the crop, together with data from the management systems from Costa, to actually do a new prediction, so that we can improve the accuracy of predicting when the crop is ready.”
Sustainability is also a huge factor for farmers and is becoming a driver according to Harvey. She said every good grower knows that their future prospects rely on them managing sustainably.
“It’s not a question of doing sustainability because it’s just the right thing to do, it’s because it’s an essential thing to do if you’re going to have a resilient and sustainable financial future.”