• John Ennis

Eye on AI - October 16th, 2020

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 begin by looking at a new study on how Augmented Reality menus increase hunger cravings and conversions, then conclude with a detailed look at the spirit company working to accelerate the distillation process with machine learning.


Enjoy!


Augmented Reality Menus Spike Hunger Cravings



We begin with an article out of Modern Restaurant Management, titled “How AR Menus Promote Craveability”, which details how 3D menus created through AR actually increase customer craveability.


“Viewing cuisine in AR has recently been studied by the Said Business School at Oxford,” writes Modern Restaurant Management contributor Mike Cadoux. “They found that utilizing an AR menu allowed the customer to more fully understand what it would be like to eat the dish, enhancing what they call ‘mental simulation.’ It can be understood by thinking of AR as activating the lizard brain – we see the delicious food in front of us, think it's there, and crave it. Their results showed higher check averages, greater craveability, and more positive word of mouth.”

3D AR menus first began on pioneering apps like Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. In time, the technology evolved to allow restaurant chains such as Panera Bread, Subway and Domino’s to offer lifelike 3D menus directly through their apps. The reason for AR’s adoption: the contextual visual cues offered by AR increase overall customer evaluation and purchase intentions.


Think about it this way: are you more likely to crave a cupcake looking at a picture of a cupcake, or staring at a cupcake on the plate across from you? The physical appearance of a cupcake produces a much stronger craving response because the product is right there within your reach. That same sensation is triggered by 3D AR renderings. When customers see the products they desire in a 3D space, the brain imagines it being right there in front of us, thus triggering that heightened sense of craving and increasing the likelihood that customers will follow through with a purchase to fulfill that craving.


While AR adoption had been slow in the past, it has since accelerated with the pandemic. Restaurants now have the ability to easily showcase their 3D menus directly on people’s smartphones. My take: chain restaurants and retailers that aren’t adopting AR may soon find their conversion rates in decline.


Machine Learning Aims to Speed Up Whiskey Distillation



Let’s conclude with an article out of TechCrunch, titled “Bespoken Spirits raises $2.6M in seed funding to combine machine learning and accelerated whiskey aging,” which details how Bespoke Spirits raised $2.6M in seed funding to help accelerate its process of whiskey aging using ML.


Bespoke was co-founded by former Bloom Energy, BlueJeans and Mixpanel executives Stu Aaron and another Bloom Energy alum, Martin Janousek, and is partially funded by Yankee great Derek Jeter. While it isn’t the only company working to accelerate the whiskey aging process, it is the first (or so it claims) to use machine-learning based acceleration approach through what it calls its ACTivation technology.


“‘Rather than putting the spirit in a barrel and passively waiting for nature to take its course, and just rolling the dice and seeing what happens, we instead use our proprietary ACTivation technology — with the A, C and T standing for aroma, color and taste — to instill the barrel into the spirit, and actively control the process and the chemical reactions in order to deliver premium quality tailored spirits — and to be able to do that in just days rather than decades,’ explains Bespoke co-founder Stu Aaron.”

The Bespoke team maintains that traditional barrel aging is too wasteful. Not only is it time-consuming, but 20% of the whiskey in each barrel is lost through evaporation. The financial challenges this produces for beverage upstarts are often overwhelming.


“Right now, Aaron noted, a lot of craft distilleries are facing financial strains and need to unlock their inventory and get their product to market sooner — and maybe at a better quality and hence higher price point — than they previously could.”

It’s not just a whiskey problem. The barrelling process is also used in beer and wine production. Beer, unlike wine, doesn’t age well once bottled. With the pandemic slowing alcohol distribution, many breweries have been forced to dump expired products. According to Bespoke, it doesn’t have to be this way. Whiskey distilleries are able to use that excess beer in their initial distillation process, converting it into premium whiskey. It’s a difficult process that’s easily botched. ML assistance helps ensure it runs smoothly.


“I often like to describe our company as a cross between 23andme, Nespresso and Impossible Foods,” Aaron said. “We’re like 23andme, because again, we’re trying to map the customer to preference to the recipe to results. There is this big data, genome mapping kind of a thing. And we’re like Nespresso because our machine takes spirit and supply pods and produces results, although obviously we’re industrial scale and they’re not. And it’s like Impossible Foods, because it’s totally redefining an age-old antiquated model to be completely different.”

While Bespoke is using ML to improve distillation, other spirit researchers have begun looking into how ML can improve whiskey taste and tasting. And there are countless ML applications for analyzing data in other areas of the beverage industry, such as distribution, market research, etc. As the industry continues to evolve, ML will likely only have a bigger impact.



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