In 2019, Swedish whisky distillery Mackmyra released Intelligens, said to be the ‘world’s first’ whisky created using AI. Mackmyra collaborated with Microsoft and a Finland-based tech company – Fourkind, and using customer feedback data, they created AI algorithms which picked up recipes that were a delight for the end-consumer.
Microsoft, IBM and other tech companies are active in alcobev
Microsoft, IBM and other digital technology players were making significant forays into the alcobev industry. And the big boys of the alcobev industry soon realised how transformative this could be for the industry itself. They had seen the dividends the retail sector was earning and one by one, they started introducing digital technologies in their processes and the going has been good. Microsoft pitched to Danish multinational brewer Carlsberg for the ‘Beer Fingerprinting Project’ and the two used machine learning to good effect. They fed with beer ingredient characteristics to map out and predict beer flavours, shortening the time it takes to develop new beers. Then there was US-based Sugar Creek Brewing Company which tied up with IBM to use AI to improve its beer manufacturing line where there was a monthly beer spillage amounting to $30,000.
Diageo’s ‘What’s Your Whisky’ is so so customer-centric
One of the global leaders in alcoholic beverages, Diageo launched ‘What’s Your Whisky Selector’, an innovative digital experience that has found favor and flavor with many a whisky connoisseur. What did ‘What’s Your Whisky’ do? It simply used AI and ML to analyse customer’s flavour preferences (variety of sweet, fruity, spicy and smoky flavours found in Single Malt whiskies) and recommended a Single Malt whose flavour profile most closely matched the customer’s taste. Customer delight is something no company would want to miss out on. Diageo rolled-out this experience in Great Britain, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, Greece, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands. Ok, it is not available in India which boasts of the largest base of whisky drinkers! Diageo said that intelligent automation is deployed in over 100 applications across its business. “Through predictive analytics, machine leaning and robotics process automation, we are growing more productive and more competitive.”Around the same time, other alcobev behemoths such as Beam Suntory, Bacardi, AB InBev, Pernod Ricard and others had also started putting their money on AI, ML and robotics to enhance manufacturing and operational processes and importantly on introducing a new dimension to customer experience.
A lot is brewing in AB InBev’s Beer Garage
Belgium-based AB InBev has something brewing in its ‘Beer Garage’ wherein machine learning is at play. AB inBev has invested in data-driven solutions to help improve beer brewing on the production side, while on the customer side, it is enhancing its customer engagement programme. The world’s largest beer maker (Budweiser, Stella Artois, and Corona) is using low-cost sensors and machine learning to predict malfunctioning in its brewery, getting to fix it before it happens and thus avoiding huge downtime. Beer Garage is scaling the company’s existing capabilities in AI, ML, Internet of Things, Cloud & data analytics, automation and robotics, and exploring emerging technologies such as Blockchain, AR & VR and others. Innovation at AB InBev drives its commercial strategy, supply chain, and is building sustainable business to improve lives in communities around the world. These technologies are providing the company with unprecedented insight into the needs of its consumers and customers and supporting the growth of the beer category.
Beam Suntory Mexico plant uses drones in agave fields
Beam Suntory, the world’s third largest premium spirits company, deployed drones and AI in its Casa Sauza project. Drones helped the company get an accurate inventory of the agave (Tequila) plants in the fields and to reduce the time it takes to complete the inventory. An AI process is applied to ensure only agave plants, not weeds or any other material, are counted. The inventory data is loaded and tracked in the Sauza Blue Harvest application and later transferred to SAP for SKU tracking. The drone technology is used to manage, monitor and increase crop productivity, and to assist in diagnosing the health and vitality of the agave plants. Beam Suntory is also using digital manufacturing from Rockwell Automation and Cisco to overhaul its business models, improve efficiencies, streamline logistics and update its network. “The future’s promising for Beam’s IT infrastructure and for our networks, and how we can leverage automation and productivity, improving our flavours and our brands. It’s very important to Beam, and I think we’re really moving forward in a good direction,” said Amon Hogue, Senior Network Architect at Beam Suntory.
Pernod Ricard Winemakers gets accurate grape yield
Early this year, Pernod Ricard Winemakers, the premium wine division of Pernod Ricard, took on board Complexica, a leading provider of AI software for supply and demand optimisation. It went live with Complexica’s Decision Cloud software platform in Marlborough, New Zealand in what is Pernod Ricard’s largest global technology project. It plans further go-lives in Australia for finished goods planning and production scheduling, followed by Australian and Church Road winery operations, which forms part of a wider programme of activity to enable the business to utilise technology to work faster, smarter and safer. Pernod Ricard Winemakers also engaged Trellis to support its business and supply chain operations by providing accurate grape yield, quality, harvest timing and procurement cost prediction across Australia and New Zealand.
Bacardi’s cool cocktail-making app
Bacardi this year launched a new cocktail-making app that has helped those who were dishing up new cocktail recipes during the pandemic. The app aims to reimagine the bar setting, besides giving bartenders a platform to showcase their talent. The app launched in the US and UK helped boost consumer confidence in making cocktails at home. Bacardi also signed up EPAM which streamlined the spirits manufacturer’s digital environment by implementing a digital platform for multiple brands including Bacardi rum, Grey Goose vodka, Breezer, Patron Tequila and more. The DevOps automation platform resulted in 16 times greater website development capacity, and a 42% reduction in infrastructure costs.
Digitization in alcobev still nascent
Though deployment of digital technologies is still in its nascent stages in the alcobev sector, there are a number of early adopters who have invested in digital technologies to not only create flavour profiles faster, but also for other functions, including packaging, logistics, marketing and other processes. It is no-brainer that AI has the power to transform the alcobev industry forever, albeit it is happening at a gradual pace. In fact, the pandemic has accelerated the pace of deployment of AI in the alcobev sector as online deliveries became common; home drinking was becoming the norm; and consumers were looking at new recipes. According to US-based FasTrax Solutions, total alcohol sales registered an increase of 25.5% in 2020, driven by digital marketing initiatives with AI at the core. It said in the US beer sales increased by 20.2%; wine by 30.1%; and spirits by 34.1%. Thanks to e-commerce, the sales figures are looking impressive in these difficult times. Also came along the virtual sommelier, guiding consumers on how to buy wine, how to grow vines and how to taste / judge them. In fact, some winemakers have started investing in AI in their vineyards wherein it gives insights into soil management, pest control etc. Experts believe that large vineyards will deploy drones to help growers manage their yield better. Robots will also be at work to improve efficiencies at the vineyard.
‘Smart factories’ the future
Capgemini, a global leader in consulting, digital transformation and technology services, has said that beverage manufacturing companies plan to build 40% more ‘smart factories’ in the next five years. It estimates that smart factories will contribute between USD 1.5 trillion and 2.2 trillion to the global economy. And what are ‘smart factories’? They are those that leverage digital technologies to gain significant improvements in productivity, quality, flexibility and service. Three key digital technologies enable the smart factor – Connectivity (collecting data from existing equipment and new sensors); Intelligent automation (drones, machine vision etc); and Cloud-scale data management and analytics. The alcobev industry, one of the oldest in the world, though maybe late entrant to the digitization mode, but has soon caught up. From robots to drones to AI to ML, technology is becoming a key driver for not just growth, but a new customer experience. After all, customer experience matters.