May 29th 2017
Data Scientists – The Secret Sauce of Profitable Food Companies?
By: Annie Wu
The food industry is the biggest industry in the world, worth over $5 trillion USD. Data scientist is not the first career to come to mind when you think of food, but Senior Data Scientist might be the next big hire for companies in the sector.

Food companies are already reaping the rewards of data science hires and their artificial intelligence solutions. A few years ago, Starbucks began collecting consumer data on what the most popular drinks were and how their customers ordered their coffees and teas. They learned that 43% of the customers who ordered tea do not add any sugar, leading to the development and launch of their unsweetened ice tea K-Cups. In addition to K-Cups, Starbucks also used this data to create bottled versions of their most popular drinks to be sold in grocery stores. These innovations lead to an increase in market share, as Starbucks was now expanding into their customer's homes.

McDonald's recently used trend analytics to identify best practices. Specifically with drive-thrus, they considered the three main factors of drive-thru design, information on the menu, and types of customers, with the goal of predicting demand patterns to create a better experience for all customers.

Morrisons, a UK supermarket chain of 491 stores, uses data to predict what is needed in on the shelves based on how much a specific store has sold in the past, as well as external factors including weather. All food and beverage product lines in the company are being stocked using this AI system.

Manufacturing, one of the biggest sectors of the food industry, has approximately 120,000 data analysts in the United States alone. It's not a surprise given that, according to McKinsey, the manufacturing industry can gain 40% productivity with machine learning. Compared to other industries, manufacturing ranks fourth in terms of data analysts employed, as illustrated in the graph below.
Number of data analysts employed by industry (2015) (Source: Springboard)
As the following graph shows, the number of jobs has grown drastically since 2014. McKinsey predicts a 40-60% shortage of qualified people by 2018. On, as of early 2016, there were approximately 22,000 open job positions for data scientists, 98,000 for data engineers, and 95,000 for data analysts.
"Data Science" job posting trends (Source:
Lack of talent is so crucial that companies are literally paying people to become data experts. Facebook, Google, and Cloudera fund Udacity courses to educate and train more data scientists. Similarly, Y Combinator and SV Angel fund Insight Data Science Fellows, a free program to help researchers move from academia to industry as data scientists.

As companies produce higher volumes of data and data analyses technologies improve, all companies will cultivate or hire data scientists to stay competitive, and food companies are no exception.
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