Q&A with Alon Chen, CEO and Co-founder of Tastewise

Tastewise utilizes AI and data analysis to provide real-time insights and trends in the food and beverage industry. It analyzes vast amounts of data from social media, menus, and recipes to uncover emerging flavors, ingredients, and consumer preferences. Its platform helps businesses make data-driven decisions, develop innovative products, and stay ahead of market trends.

Who are your main clients: retailers? Consumer goods? Delivery services?

Our main clients are food companies: retailers, CPGs, food delivery players,  and B2B. The Holy Grail is understanding consumers. If you don’t understand your  consumers, you can’t come up with the right ingredients to grow. You don’t know  supply chains, distribution, or how to sell. Essentially, big brands need big platforms. If the next product launch isn’t going to generate at least half a billion dollars, it cannot be justified as they need scale. And understanding consumers is the foundation; today, too many food brands couldn’t be farther from their consumers. Understanding the consumer is our key differential; we’re calling ourselves the fast-moving consumer data company.

We also have FMCG incubators. The truth of the matter is that incubators1 are  doing a fairly good job. The real question is the mandate and how much backwind you  truly get from management. Some companies are very bullish and put their money  where their mouth is. Other managers see incubators as “a cute prototype.” It helps  when they push boundaries no matter what—the teams that are a bit more risk-taking.  Incubators are really needed in big organizations as a northern light.

How would you describe your company’s proposition within the sector? How’s it evolving?

Firstly, artificial intelligence: it’s going to help you come up with future products,  marketing campaigns, and accelerating sales. Predictive analytics was not a common  concept. The food industry is yet to adopt predictive analytics for consumer  consumption. The consumer pace of change is so fast that you really must change  your business and production models and GTM strategy. Consumers were already  changing so fast, but this was accelerated even more with COVID-19. Now,  companies are being left behind. Another change comes from food delivery services, which are pushing a digital first behavior.

We want to educate our customers to  understand what the human motivation behind trends is.

How do you push relevance as a big company?

The biggest buzzword is “food trends.” We want to educate our customers to  understand what the human motivation behind these trends is. If an ingredient is  already trending, it’s already too late for you to enter. Why is ube [a purple sweet  potato whose popularity originated in South Korea] trending, for example? We need  to understand why, and find out what’s going to be next. Why are fermented foods trending? There is a relation to the gut and brain health. There is a key trend in  functional eating—people eat food not only to not be hungry, but to produce better  sleep, fertility, or stress levels.

More importantly for companies: what can they do for their business? Do they  need to change their production pipeline, innovation, and marketing strategy? First,  they need visibility on the market and to know what’s happening. It’s not only about  retail sales; that’s already 18 months too late. If they don’t have change management  in place or shake things up today as an enterprise, they won’t be relevant in the future. 

How do consumers manage these tensions? How can companies best  address this?

The bottom line is being able to understand what consumer motivations are.  As an example: plant-based diets.   In a forum with 100 executives playing in the alternative protein space, you’d expect they understand the main motivation to consume plant-based products. The reality is that 80% didn’t know the right answer. Many thought it was motivated by sustainability or animal welfare, but instead, it was largely due to personal health concerns. If you don’t know your main consumer motivation, you can’t come up with the right product offering.

A second example: the amount of tech and innovation available today is incredible. You can create a healthier snack bar with the same level of sweetness if you choose specific ingredient replacements; the question is the price. We’re getting to a point where these technologies are becoming more affordable to the masses and can be sugar replacements, high protein, nutrient-dense, etc. Over time, the compromise is not going to be there. What will need to have is the adaptability of production lines and science teams in these companies. The popularity of functional eating has nearly doubled over the past five years.

Thirdly, different verticals are rising. People’s affiliations to healthy eating are going down, and gut health, brain health, and health overall are becoming more specific, though “healthy” is generic. The consumer is becoming more informed and educated.

Media has become fragmented. If you’re a brand used to doing one stream of campaign channels, it’s not sufficient anymore. Brands are fall behind more quickly. All of this gives rise to small new entrants. Big brands need big platforms. If the next product launch isn’t going to generate at least half a billion dollars, it’s not good for them. The long-tail model is here to stay, and big companies’ operating models need to change. Smaller brands understand their audience so well—they are so close to the consumer and truly understand their life. FMCG claims consumer is at the center, but the truth of the matter is that food brands couldn’t be as far from consumers as they are today.

At Tastewise, we’re helping them get their team really close to their consumer. The market research as they know it is almost obsolete. There is a reshaping in the role of strategic branding and marketing teams. They can now come up with the creative part without any agency in the middle using generative AI.

How do you stay up-to-date and relevant with the market trends and audience  needs? What are the biggest challenges?

We count on AI to discover, for example, new local palate trends. Today’s market trend landscape has moved from a monoculture to something entirely new: trends are democratized and can come from anywhere, and there are more voices in the trend space than ever before. We see diverse impacts of trends, like feta or corn content on TikTok prompting nation-wide shortages. Companies have mindsets, methodologies, and  production lines that make it difficult for most of them to adapt fast. For example, we see that they’re trying to make internal transformations with tools increasing  productivity, but people are not able to catch up. How can they adopt AI to stay relevant? Work in the future is going to be how well you stick to AI— we’re doing that with “TasteGPT.” Some companies are moving faster than others; others are not moving at all. An additional latent challenge we see is regarding food safety; how do you convince consumers that your ingredients are safe to eat? Aligned with their health considerations? And how does that play into the experiential considerations of food & beverage? Consumption is no longer only about consuming and educating about eating, but also new, personalized culinary experiences.

Where do you see your business in the next five to 10 years in terms of new trends, capabilities, and consumer needs?

The future of this industry is still a consumer-focused industry. One trend we see is hyper-personalized experiences that are healthy in a seamless way. The most  important thing that’s missing today is a feedback loop; if I drink coffee, can I know in  real time if it’s good for me or not? We believe in some technological tools helping, like many sensors and indicators that are going to be a lot more informative (i.e. Lumen).

There’s already a lot of data out there; we just need to find a way to connect  our device to data points. That’s the biggest challenge preventing us from arriving to  this future. Tastewise will be the data and operating system to help the industry come  up with faster innovations. Sometimes it’s not only innovation in terms of new products,  but things consumers don’t know exist, and the industry doesn’t know it needs. We’ll  connect the lines with what’s already available.


How Big Is Your Appetite for Growth?