CAMDEN, NJ. — The 154-year-old Campbell Soup Co. is embracing Silicon Valley-inspired artificial intelligence (AI) technology to ensure its success in food and beverage innovation continues. The company is doing this by tracking and curating billions of data points to find inspiration and leverage agile design methodology to accelerate the development of new products that resonate with consumers.
“We started our insights engine program a few years ago to improve innovation and expedite product development,” said Craig Slavtcheff, chief research and development and innovation officer. “We leverage artificial intelligence to track and analyze these data points and it has become the main driver for the increase in number of products in our pipeline.”
One of the new products is Chunky Ghost Pepper Chicken Noodle Soup. The flavor will be introduced on the heels of the brand’s successful 2022 launch of Spicy Chicken Noodle, Spicy Steak and Potato, Spicy Sirloin Burger, and Spicy Chicken and Sausage Gumbo. The ghost pepper variety was first introduced along with a cool-off kit, as a limited offer to the first 500 consumers on Jan. 27 who signed a waiver stating they can handle the heat.
“The insights engine provided insights on how consumers want to be brought into spicy,” Mr. Slavtcheff said. “They are looking for twists on the familiar. Consumers are eating spicy foods more often and are actively seeking spicy variations of their favorite foods along with new spicy ingredients and products.”
Using one of the hottest peppers in the market, the R&D team created the ghost pepper variety to be 13 times spicier than its spicy chicken noodle soup, while maintaining the familiar savory flavor of chicken and vegetables. The spicy insights also were used by the innovation team to develop Frank’s RedHot Goldfish Crackers, a limited-time-offering that debuted in 2021. After a year-long hiatus, the crackers are back on retail shelves until supplies last.
Mr. Slavtcheff said the company has a strong three-year pipeline of new products, with a strategic mix of limited-time offerings, new platforms and core renovations. Some originated with the company’s innovation strategies and internal incubator program, known as Campbell’s Maker, that involves encouraging employees outside of product development to ideate and formulate prototypes.
The AI insights also play a critical role. Not only does the insights engine analyze culinary and cooking trends, it also identifies meaningful innovations in the startup space, while monitoring activity in health, wellness and nutrition sciences. It has been estimated that 300 billion data points are reviewed each year to find inspiration for the next new line extension or even new brand.
“From a research and development perspective, the insights engine provides our food scientists with lots of inspiration,” Mr. Slavtcheff said. “They are able to develop products in as quickly as four months by using our ‘flavor banking’ approach, where we translate trends into workings that are as much as 80% complete.”
The work with insights helped Campbell Soup launch Flavorup! cooking concentrates in September 2022. The inspiration for the concept was the food fatigue so many home cooks were experiencing a year into the pandemic.
To determine what varieties would be best received in the rollout, the company tapped into its insights engine and collected data from varied online and social media sources to learn what people were cooking and what ingredients they were using. This led to the creation of three varieties, including caramelized onion and Burgundy wine, rich garlic and herb, and savory mushroom and herb.
In February, the company introduced Kettle Brand Air Fried Chips formulated using patent-pending technology to kettle cook and air finish potato chips. The product has a light, crispy texture with 30% less fat than original Kettle Brand chips, according to Campbell Soup.
The insights engine process showed that since the air fryer was introduced in 2010, air-fried foods have continued to rise in popularity, with #Airfryer amassing more than 6.6 billion views on TikTok. It also showed potatoes are the leading air-fried food. It also provided flavor insights that led to the formulation of such varieties as jalapeño, Himalayan salt, and sea salt and vinegar.