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“AI doesn’t replace. It augments” – how AI helps Mondelez’s R&D



06 Jul 2023

“AI doesn’t replace. It augments” – how AI helps Mondelez’s R&D

“AI doesn’t replace. It augments” – how AI helps Mondelez’s R&D

Mondelez International is not alone in exploring the potential of AI. Dean Best speaks to Joe Manton about how the company uses the tech in its R&D.

As senior director and global lead for digital R&D at Mondelez International, Joe Manton is central to the snacks giant’s efforts to use digital technology to help its research and development.

Manton joined the Cadbury and Oreo maker in 2019 and one of his first tasks was to look at how the company could harness artificial intelligence in its R&D processes. 

Just Food sat down with Manton to hear what Mondelez has learned so far, how its R&D staff feel about using AI and the potential he sees for the business.

Just Food: How is Mondelez using the technology in its NPD?

Joe Manton: We started out with three test and learns, exploring to learn how AI could help us. One was: could we leverage AI against vast quantities of historical data? Where we think we’ve got a lot of historical knowledge about something, can it leverage that to take us forward?  

Two, where we don’t have much [data] at all. We might have some ideas, something nearby, but this is new product development. The third was where something like the transient aspects of the consumer experience is important. Think about chewing gum. It changes texture over time, flavour changes over time. Can AI help us formulate for that entire experience? We started off with those three. On new product development, in particular, we had great success.

JF: When did the company start that work?

JM: 2019. It was one of the first projects we picked up. We are definitely behind some and we are ahead of others.

JF: What was the corporate spark to look at AI in R&D?

JM: It’s part of the reason I am here. To my knowledge, it started with [Mondelez’s] R&D leadership who actually asked themselves: ‘How are we going to maintain our world-class reputation as an R&D organisation?’ They put a lot of effort into understanding how others who have a similar reputation are moving forward.

And, without question, those that excel were leveraging digital to a far greater extent. I say digital rather than AI because AI is only one part. In those four and a half years, it’s gone from ‘Let’s explore. We should be doing something. What might it look like?’ to digital being thread through the company’s vision and strategy in everything that we do. It started with that spark but it’s well-recognised as necessity. 

JF: What did Mondelez actually learn in those three areas?

JM: Where we have vast quantities of historical data, we learned that there’s a difference between quality and quantity. We have now initiated a data programme – particularly in R&D but, again, this will be broader – to get our data into a far better shape and, predominantly, that is the implementation of data governance so that we truly start to treat our data as a valuable asset, rather than a by-product of what we do.

JF: What kinds of historical datasets were being crunched?

JM: In R&D and the bits we were actually leveraging, it is from a concept – which is put in front of a product developer – then the recipes and ingredients that are put together in an attempt to speak to that concept. Then we go through a series of internal and external consumer testing to really explore how that’s going to delight the consumer and ultimately pick the one that goes to market. So, in some cases, a lot of this historical data existed and that’s where we started on that one. 

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