American spice giant McCormick & Company is a Fortune 1000 company founded in 1889. But recent years have shown that even old brands can learn new tricks. 

McCormick & Company was founded and is still headquartered in Maryland, USA, over 132 years ago. Founder Willoughby M McCormick originally sold root beer, fruit syrups, and flavoring extracts door to door in the Baltimore area. Over the years, the company has acquired dozens of famous spice and seasoning brands, including Cholula Hot Sauce, Frank’s Red Hot, Lawry’s, Old Bay, Thai Kitchen, Zatarain’s, and many other legendary American seasoning brands.  In Europe, McCormick operates well-known spice brands such as Ducros, Schwartz, Silvo, Vahiné & Giotti

So what do you do when there are no more spices left to conquer? You go high tech

Flavor Cell Technology

Researchers at McCormick have developed a new flavor encapsulation technology they call “Flavor Cell.” Flavor cells preserve the integrity of delicate flavors during intensive manufacturing processes, resulting in more consistent end products. Flavor cells encapsulate ingredients, making them resistant to damage during freezing, thawing, and cooking. In powdered beverages, Flavor Cell technology preserves flavors over long shelf times, and ensures that powders dissolve quickly and completely. In confectionary, Flavor Cells can release flavors upon chewing, and enable sequential flavor release for several distinct flavor experiences over time. 

McCormick’s Flavor Cells are available in different levels of solubility for different applications, and customizable for different needs and consumer demands. 

AI-Assisted Flavor Development

In 2019, McCormick announced that it has partnered with IBM to use AI to shorten the product development cycle. Traditional food product development requires a team of food scientists, chemics, chemical engineers, chefs, and often nutritionists, who may iterate a recipe 50-150 times before it goes to a lab for analysis, and then for testing with consumers. The process can take up to six months, and yet market advantage often goes to companies who are faster to launch. 

New product development is also made more time consuming and complex because there are thousands of possible ingredients, and even small changes in the ratios of different ingredients can have a dramatic effect on the final result. There can also be a conflict between the desire to refine and perfect familiar foods, flavors, or ingredients, and the desire to explore something new and different.  

IBM’s research department partnered with McCormick to design an AI that can learn and predict: 

  • Possible alternative and substitute ingredients
  • Suggest ratios of ingredients based on existing usage patterns
  • Human response to products and flavors

In addition, the AI can measure the novelty of a flavor as a measure of distance between certain flavor formulas, helping to determine how new or unusual the final result is likely to be. 

Researchers at McCormick have noticed that working with the AI not only made new products faster to develop, but it also identified challenges that they weren’t aware of. For example, a specific chef or food scientist may have a “go-to” ingredient for specific flavors, and use it over and over in order to save time. The AI can quickly analyze the challenge and offer a wider range of alternatives, helping to overcome certain routines and habits. 

In 2019, McCormick launched their first product line developed with the help of AI technology, called “One.” The company plans on rolling out the AI assistant to more than 20 labs in 14 countries around the world, and to continue to leverage new and rich ways of managing food and flavor data. 

FONA International

In December 2020, McCormick acquired FONA International, a flavor technologies company. With the purchase, McCormick gains FONA’s proprietary technologies, including their flavor encapsulation technology, and Optify, a taste modification technology. Optify is designed to modify the perception and mouthfeel of a food product, without delivering a distinctive flavor. Designed for the specific challenges of healthy and better-for-you foods, Optify can enhance certain desired flavors, neutralize unwanted flavors, and optimize flavor delivery and mouthfeel. FONA’s solutions add to McCormick’s existing flavor capabilities, but also may better position McCormick to expand into flavors for over-the-counter medications like chews, liquids, and tablets. 

The story of McCormick proves that just because a company is historic and traditional doesn’t mean it can’t break new ground. Some of the most exciting research in food, flavors, technology, and science is happening in companies that have been on your shelf for decades. 

Do you need to bring science and passion for natural ingredients & flavors into your company? Contact grapefrute today.

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