The French dairy giant, Danone, is spearheading a new era in food technology by incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) into its yogurt manufacturing process. A groundbreaking project by the company is currently underway, focusing on a distinctive facility in the vicinity of Paris. Researchers are utilizing globular glass vessels and plastic tubes to simulate the human digestive process. Yogurt has been introduced into an artificial digestive system, and its bacterial content’s survival is closely monitored. If the bacteria resist digestive enzymes, artificial intelligence technology intervenes to explore their possible health advantages.
The AI-driven initiative is a technological experiment and a lifeline for the century-old company. The company has struggled with declining sales volumes in its dairy unit for the past nine years. In response to the cost-of-living crisis, consumers have been switching to more affordable brands, leading to a 4% decrease in sales volumes for the division last year. Per insights shared by Bruno Monteyne, an analyst at Bernstein, Danone can only revive its business by investing in a superior product with better pricing power.
Danone opened a new facility in February after investing approximately $100 million. The company relied on its extensive collection of bacteria and vast experience in the dairy industry for this venture. A cutting-edge hub has been established to position itself as a formidable competitor against Nestle SA and other rivals. This hub boasts a research lab that houses the latest robot stomach technology, co-working spaces, and a consumer-testing area. To provide its AI with comprehensive data, the company has collaborated with several institutions, such as the University of California at San Diego and a project named Le French Gut. The latter initiative seeks to examine the microbiomes of 100,000 volunteers.
Danone’s strategy is deeply rooted in the ancient process of fermentation. The company’s artificial stomach can now track the journey of probiotics after leaving the yogurt pot, encased in a glass case the size of a torso. Danone utilizes a mechanical digestion simulation to determine which probiotics can endure stomach acids and enzymes and effectively colonize the gut. According to sources, Raish Oozeer, the director of microbiome and probiotics research at Danone, has stressed the significance of survival for any probiotic being researched.
Further examination is conducted on promising bacteria to determine their interactions with fibers and vitamins found in food. Machine learning algorithms assume control following the selection process, linking the identified bacteria to diverse health conditions. An AI algorithm delves into stool samples, medical histories, and past scientific research to uncover potential connections to various health outcomes, including weight loss and immunity.
Jan Knol, the Senior Director of Research and Innovation at Danone, has stated that technological advancements have significantly enhanced our comprehension of the intricate gut microbiota ecosystem. In addition to its current projects, the company is developing AI tools for various research purposes. One such area of focus is assessing infants’ gut flora quality, aiming to improve infant formula. Sources note that partnerships with Microsoft’s Azure platform and Amazon Web Services are crucial in this endeavor.
Danone’s focus is not necessarily on pioneering new scientific discoveries, despite the extensive investment in years of data mining and research to comprehend the interplay between the microbiome and immunity. A source notes the company aims to create a captivating marketing story linking particular bacteria to health advantages, validating the higher cost of their yogurt and infant formula offerings.
According to Kim Barrett, the Vice Dean for Research at the University of California Davis’s School of Medicine, pharmaceutical-grade testing is not required for these products. According to a source, companies can make health claims about products if they are widely acknowledged as safe.
Danone’s foray into AI technology for yogurt production could potentially mark the beginning of a technology-driven revolution in the food industry. Leveraging its extensive dairy expertise, vast bacterial library, and partnerships with tech giants and research institutions, the company is navigating uncharted territory. Danone’s AI-driven initiative has the potential to redefine the future of yogurt and turn around the company’s fortunes. While the focus remains on producing superior products that appeal to health-conscious consumers, the success of this endeavor is highly anticipated.