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The impacts of artificial intelligence and machine learning on the food and beverage industry – could humans be replaced?

The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) is impacting almost every sector of business.

While the use of AI and ML is not new, it is becoming more ubiquitous in all facets of our daily lives. Not only is the adoption of these technologies rising, but according to GoSpotCheck’s 2017 Technology Trends report, AI has the potential to double the annual economic growth rates of 12 developed countries by 2035. It’s quickly becoming clear that the benefits and use-cases for industries willing to adopt and take advantage of the benefits of AI are endless.

When looking at the food and beverage industry specifically, the impacts of leveraging AI and ML are far-reaching – from streamlining processes and improving overall employee efficiency, to revolutionizing the in-store shopping experience and having the potential to help food processors feed the world.

Improving employee efficiency
In addition to speeding up manual tasks and improving employee efficiency, use cases for AI and ML related to the in-store shopping experience are becoming more evident, especially among retailers on the bleeding edge of innovation, like Amazon. Although technology isn’t replacing the work of humans in its brick-and-mortar concept store Amazon Go, the use of AI eliminates the need for cashiers at checkout, effectively reducing consumer friction at the point-of-sale. As Amazon’s impact spreads to other retailers, like Whole Foods (due to their recent acquisition), and competitors looking to jump on the bandwagon of Amazon’s success, these technologies may have the potential to ultimately change the way we shop.

One of the biggest challenges facing retailers in the food and beverage industry is when products are out of stock. To this end, Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, has recently rolled out shelf-scanning robots in an effort to reduce restocking times and identify misplaced items. The robots work in tandem with employees by scanning aisles to check stock, identifying misplaced or missing items, and assessing accuracy of pricing and labeling. This data is then passed on to employees who are ultimately responsible for stocking shelves and fixing errors.

Mobile innovation
The Fortune 500’s aren’t the only ones pushing the envelope in retail. Smaller and more agile start-ups, like Denver-based GoSpotCheck, are also getting in the game when it comes to retail innovation. GoSpotCheck uses the latest in AI and ML technology to streamline field team’s surveys, audits and reports with their state-of-the-art mobile data collection software. GoSpotCheck’s goal is to equip field reps with the tools and resources they need to provide actionable insights to their customers.

Manual and paper-based processes lead to bottlenecks that can often impact supply chain management. This lag time can delay information from reaching key decision makers who rely on the data to make critical decisions. GoSpotCheck’s innovative mobile platform streamlines tedious processes that can be detrimental when analyzing share of shelf and empowers organizations with real-time data that allows them to course-correct as needed.

Will humans be replaced?
Technology will continue to transform the shopping experience and consumer expectations, especially as the lines between the physical and digital world continue to blur or even, in some cases, converge. However, retailers and suppliers have really only scratched the surface when it comes to collecting, analyzing, and extracting insights from that data to fully understand how consumers behave and want to purchase goods.

As access to big-data and AI technology grows, retailers and suppliers will be able to provide more custom experiences to target consumers based on real behavioral data and track the success of those strategies more efficiently, tailoring and tweaking to capture consumers in real time. In essence, it’s the ability to apply digital marketing techniques to the physical brick-and-mortar world.

With all the advancements in technology throughout the food and beverage sector, it leads many to wonder if it’s possible to replace human workers altogether. Rather than replacing the jobs of humans, the time savings from increased efficiency derived from technology allows teams to focus on more important activities, like providing better customer service.

If Walmart, Amazon and GoSpotCheck are indicators of where the industry is headed, then workers need not fear. For example, Walmart is on record stating robots will not affect employee headcount across their stores, Amazon continues its search for a second headquarters to support additional human growth, and start-ups like GoSpotCheck continue to expand at exponential rates.
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