Mars partners with AI provider to accelerate functional food development

Amanda Gerla

Dive Brief:

  • Mars entered a multi-year agreement with artificial intelligence-driven life sciences company PIPA to accelerate the discovery of new plant-based ingredients. Mars will use PIPA’s LEAP platform — which draws from several scientific sources to predict connections that could lead to new developments — in its product design process.
  • The partnership, beginning in the company’s emerging science arm called the Mars Advanced Research Institute (MARI), will roll out the LEAP platform to different innovation teams during the next two years. The technology will be used to formulate food for both humans and pets.
  • Food companies are using more AI platforms to determine optimal formulations to make food that not only tastes and performs better, but is healthier. Kraft Heinz recently entered a joint venture with Chile-based NotCo, which uses its Giuseppe AI platform to redesign animal-based foods including milk, burgers and mayonnaise.

Dive Insight:

While the days of trying to hypothesize what different ingredients might do in certain situations are not over, AI platforms have reduced a lot of that guesswork.

Several companies have used these high-tech informational platforms to pull together the research, reports, trials and data about different ingredients and processes. A food scientist can start a project with relevant information at their fingertips, making the R&D process faster and more effective.

PIPA, an acronym for Process Integration & Predictive Analytics, is bringing AI to life sciences and food. The company’s LEAP system includes biomedical databases, scientific publications, clinical trials and datasets from studies dealing with biological molecules.

This system can discover associations among molecular and food-related items with microbes and diseases, paving the way for more functional food items to be created. PIPA had previously worked with Mars — which has a significant pet food and veterinary division — to use veterinary health data to develop the Renaltech diagnostic tool to predict kidney disease in cats.

While the clinical tool is important, this partnership is focused on using AI for food ingredients.

“By joining forces with Mars, we are placing AI at the center of food, nutrition, and health,” George Nikolaou, PIPA’s vice president of product, said in the statement announcing the partnership.

PIPA has recently been putting itself at the forefront of using AI for better food.

In September, Ilias Tagkopoulos, its founder and chairman, was tapped to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s AI Institute for Next Generation Food Systems. It was founded with a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation. This group’s mission is to use AI to make the food system more sustainable and nutritious, while reducing negative impacts on the environment.

Mars also has using science to improve its offerings. MARI was established as a research center to find ways to harness science and technology. The research institute is focused on figuring out long-term changes and scientific breakthroughs, and this new partnership fits into its mission. Mars also researches ways to improve nutrition through its Mars Edge division.

Utilizing AI to reduce R&D time and create better functional products is a smart way for food companies to move forward.

Companies including McCormick & Co., Eat Just — formerly known as Hampton Creek — and NotCo have found success as CPG players by using sophisticated algorithms to discover ingredient solutions. Other players are building AI platforms for their business, like The Live Green Co., which plans to use its algorithm to help companies reformulate products to be plant-based, healthier and more sustainable.

Through the partnership with PIPA, Mars can double down on its goal to create better food products for people and animals. A 2019 Kerry study found 65% of consumers look for function in what they eat and drink, and many CPG brands are adding functional options to their product lineups. This tie-up can help move Mars’ products to the forefront of the functional sector.

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