Could the healthy plant-based products you’ll be buying at supermarkets be developed with AI technology? In the not-so-soon future, most probably. Danone, one of the world’s biggest food corporations, is working with Brightseed to discover new “hidden” phytonutrients and compounds in plant crops. And Danone will use insights from this tech to expand its vegan portfolio.
Danone has just forged a three-year deal with Brightseed, the Californian biotech behind the AI system that maps and predicts the health impact of plant-based compounds. Together, the two firms will “co-build unparalleled understanding” of the world’s crops, and how they impact human health. Danone will then take these insights to develop and launch new plant-based products on the market.
It comes after a successful partnership between Brightseed and Danone’s North America arm, which has a number of legacy vegan brands like Silk and So Delicious under its umbrella.
Brightseed’s AI technology is called Forager. It claims to be the first and only AI that can map the world’s plant bioactives, while predicting which among them will have the most beneficial impacts on human health. The platform, which is continually updated with new data, will be able to map around 10 million compounds across an enormous range of crops globally by 2025.
Danone says that using Forager will help them understand more about the health of plant ingredients “far beyond standard nutritional conventions”. During the trial with its North American business, the AI platform managed to examine Danone’s range of plant crop sources and uncovered 10 times more bioactives than previously known—in just one single plant. It also revealed 7 new “health areas” impacting human biology.
Expanding Danone’s healthy vegan food range
Over the next three years, Danone’s global operations will be working with Brightseed to continue establishing new knowledge about plant compounds. It’ll form the basis of Danone’s product innovation for its plant-based food category, a business segment that the company is quickly ramping up amid surging demand.
Last year, Danone announced its plan to double its plant-based sales to $5.4 billion by 2025. Since setting out the target, the corporation has ramped up its vegan portfolio, acquiring the legacy brand Follow Your Heart and adding new products to its existing plant-based labels like Alpro.
“By partnering with Brightseed, we now have tools to shift the global food-system from one that is yield-driven to one that prioritises sustainability and health beyond all else,” commented Taisa Hansen, SVP of research and innovation at Danone Nutricia Research.
Hansen added that the Forager platform will offer “unprecedented visibility into the transformative power plants can have on human health” and arm them with the information to expand Danone’s health-forward plant-based food portfolio.
AI and food: a new trend
Using machine learning and AI in the R&D process of new food products is still a relatively new concept, but Brightseed is not the only player. Food techs that have built their own AI platforms include NotCo, the Chilean plant-based unicorn that uses AI tech to develop its range of vegan milks, burgers, mayonnaise and ice creams.
The difference is now, big food companies are leveraging AI too, with the view to make tastier, healthier and more climate-friendly products. For Professor Dariush Mozaffarian of Tufts University and scientific advisor to Brightseed, the move by Danone is an example of how large food corporations are now “increasingly interested in providing products that help to nourish and sustain wellness in their customers.”
“Artificial intelligence is a promising way to improve our molecular understanding of plants and foods, so that we can find newer ways to address chronic diseases, improve nutrition security, and promote healthy living,” Mozaffarian added.
Sofia Elizondo, co-founder and COO of Brightseed, says that partnerships like this are “breaking down the silos that have traditionally kept the food and health industries worlds apart.”
All images courtesy of Brightseed / Danone.