Food sustainability a growing concern for US consumers, Israeli AI startup says

Tastewise, an AI-powered platform that uses computer learning to predict food trends, in a Wednesday report forecast a growing consumer interest in sustainable food choices.

The Israeli startup’s technology aims to keep abreast of changing food trends by scouring menus and billions of social media posts, photos, and recipes, providing real-time data on food and beverage trends.

Its new report said that, since a year ago, 23 percent more consumers were prioritizing sustainability in their diet. It analyzed data from some two billion online social interactions, over three million online recipes, and the menus of 274,000 restaurants.

Health concerns were consumers’ top focus when it came to sustainability, followed by environmental considerations, with 39% of conversations on sustainable foods focusing on health benefits. Local food was a topic of 15% of discussions, and recycling 13%.

Only 1% of the discussions involved animal rights, 1% talked about pollution, 2% on ecology and 3% on climate change. Animal rights, pollution and ecology saw a huge drop in interest since the previous year.

Consumers are growing increasingly concerned about waste, with 8.5% percent of conversations focusing on the topic, representing a 20% increase over the previous year. Only 10% of those talks discuss meat, despite the animal agriculture industry’s massive environmental impact.

Veganism was the leading diet for sustainable eaters, with 31% of vegans motivated primarily by health concerns, 12% by fitness, and only 2% by animal rights. Seventeen percent of online conversations about sustainability discussed veganism.

Geographically, interest in sustainability was concentrated on the coasts, with liberal politics and a cultural concern with the environment correlated with interest in sustainable foods.

California was the leading US state, home to 22% of the country’s sustainable restaurants.

The researchers saw a rise in online conversations on meat alternatives, and an increase in discussions on the use of seafood in sustainable recipes. Pollock was the most popular item on sustainable seafood menus, found on 80% of them, and oysters the fastest growing topic in online discussions. Salmon was the most talked about sustainable seafood.

Other growing trends were juice and smoothie bars promoting sustainable packaging, including environmentally friendly cups and straws; “on the go” food and beverages, including sustainable coffee and juice; sustainable dark chocolate and cocoa beans; and healthy waffles and oats on restaurant menus.

The study predicted that “sustainability will define the industry in 2020.” It was not published academically or peer-reviewed, but intended for use by marketers to better adapt to trends in the coming year.

“Sustainability is an issue that’s increasingly important across food categories and markets,” Tastewise co-founder and CEO Alon Chen said in a statement. “If a menu or a product doesn’t offer sustainable seafood, it’s time to catch up to consumers’ heightened culinary consciousness.”

Tastewise bills itself as a tool for hospitality and food brands and counts Campbell’s, Coca-Cola and Nestle as customers. The company was founded in 2017 by Israelis Chen and Eyal Gaon.

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