By: Rick Stein, Vice President, Fresh, Industry Relations, Food Marketing Institute
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At the recent Annual Meat Conference in Dallas, a roomful of attendees were baffled by what sounded like a simple question: “How often do you interact with artificial intelligence?”

The possible answers ranged from “rarely” to “all the time” to “How would I know?”

The fact is that, increasingly, in our everyday lives we encounter artificial intelligence (AI) tools and don’t even know it.

Ever had the GPS mapping app on your phone suggest an alternate route because of a traffic jam ahead? Have you ever pulled up the Netflix app on your TV without any idea of what you’d like to watch, knowing it will offer several suggestions you’ll probably enjoy?

AI is alive and at work in your personal life, and food retail is beginning to find its functions useful too, even if you don’t know it yet.

AI is the natural evolution of robotics, a technology developed in great part to benefit the automotive industry that quickly found its way to other industries. In food retail, the expanding use of AI means everybody along the supply chain can analyze larger amounts of data to more closely track and master the wily laws of supply and demand.

Danny Lin, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP, spoke in the 2019 Annual Meat Conference session, “AI in the Food Chain: How Companies Are Using Disruptive Technology to Win in the Meat Aisle,” and shared the five simple ingredients involved in AI and how they are benefiting or will benefit food retail.

  • Machine learning—the ability to employ statistical models without the need to follow explicitly programmed instructions, has set the stage for dynamic pricing, which retailers can use to adapt to the shifting marketplace instantaneously.
  • Computer vision—the automatic understanding and engagement with images and videos has led to the autonomous check-out some retailers have begun to incorporate.
  • Expert systems—artificial agents that leverage pre-programmed expert knowledge to make decisions, give us “smart” refrigerators and retail floor sensors.
  • Physical and software robotics—is the science of designing, operating and using robots to solve human problems. That’s why we now have robotic beef rib cutters, for instance, and robotic store audits.
  • Natural language processing and generation—provides us with automatic extraction, analysis and generation of human language; the Amazon Echo; and eventually the daydreams of entrepreneurs looking for its function in the food retail store.

Where could all this potential in AI take food retail? The development of AI means that human touch can be applied where it can be of greatest benefit: in face-to-face engagement with customers as you work to give them what they want.

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