Riana Lynn’s company, Journey Foods, is dragging the packaged food business into the 21st century.
"Food manufacturing has really only scaled up in the last 60 years," she said. "And that means we’re also working on very antiquated methods."
Her company’s software uses machine learning, artificial intelligence, data scraping and cohort analysis to recommend the most nutritious and more sustainable ingredients for food companies, such as its partners Ingredion and Unilever.
In 2018, the global packaged food industry generated $2.77 trillion, an amount expected to reach almost $5 trillion by 2027. With veganism surging, many of those trillions of dollars will be spent on plant-based products that companies will need to redevelop to appease shoppers.
According to Lynn, when a food company wants to move to a gluten-free or plant-based version of one of its core products, that process takes a lot of trial and error. JourneyAI, the software from Journey Foods, is designed to recommend the most suitable almond flour or vegan butter alternative, helping the business save time, money and resources in the formulating or reformulating process.
"We’re making sure that the cost and sustainability and nutrition match for that product," Lynn said. "We can make sure that the cost is right and availability of alternatives are right, so the customer can buy an improved product without a lot of waste."
The software uses machine learning to recommend the most nutritious and more sustainable ingredients for the big food companies.
Journey Foods analyzes over 260 characteristics including general nutrition, mass macronutrient values and proprietary sustainability scores in its recommendation engine. And it not only categorizes and analyzes ingredients but also connects food companies with suppliers, acting as an efficient middle man in the supply chain.
Journey Bites, the company’s limited direct-to-consumer fruit snack offering, was a proof-of-concept product meant to model and prove out the software’s data methodology and problem-solving features. The small cubes come in two flavor varieties: mango and cayenne spice and strawberry and chia. The products are packed with nutritional benefits such as healthy vitamins, fiber and naturally occurring antioxidants such as polyphenols.
While improved nutrition was Lynn’s first goal with Journey Foods, she said there was a natural evolution into thinking more about sustainability.
"Sustainability came in a little bit later down the road," she said. "Even though that’s a passion of mine."
Lynn is a scientist at heart with a background in biology. Working with big data sets while doing genetics research at the University of Chicago helped prepare her data management portion of the business. And her experience of the food deserts around the university inspired the focus on food and nutrition. After working on investment teams and at the White House, she turned to the startup world, becoming an entrepreneur in residence at Google.
Lynn underscores the importance of introducing more biodiversity in food for sustainability and has seen mungbean and sea plants such as algae and phytoplankton become trendy ingredients for food companies looking for more sustainable options.
The proprietary sustainability scores used in JourneyAI combine information from university environmental programs, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework Guidance and other information specific to unique sustainable manufacturers. Journey Foods’ methodology targets greenhouse gas emissions and water use.
"There are manufacturers that use less water in the process," Lynn said. "But because of the way that they extract, they can pull more nutrient density."
According to Lynn, Vesta Ingredients, an ingredient manufacturer in Indianapolis, is one of those unconventional, more sustainable manufacturers that is getting in front of more eyes because of Journey Foods’ algorithm.
Lynn wants her algorithm to tangibly affect the industry and make a real change from inside the big food company’s recipes.
"We are really after the goal of creating the most actionable database for consumer product companies," she said.