Canadians Have Conflicting Perspectives on AI in the Food Industry [OP-ED]

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In recent years, the rapid advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies has significantly transformed various industries, and the food industry is no exception. AI’s emergence in the retail and service sectors has brought forth a plethora of opportunities and challenges. As AI algorithms become increasingly sophisticated, they offer food companies the ability to gain valuable insights into consumer behaviour, predict preferences, and even anticipate changes in dietary choices.

One recent study by our Lab gauged the opinions, concerns, and expectations of Canadian consumers regarding the use of predictive analytics and AI within the food industry. By understanding consumer perceptions, we can already gain valuable insights into the ethical, privacy, and social implications associated with AI adoption.

In collaboration with Caddle, a cross-national survey was conducted last month, encompassing a substantial sample of 5,525 respondents. The first part of this survey was to gauge consumer awareness regarding the utilization of AI in various contexts, particularly within the food industry. Additionally, the survey aimed to explore consumer perspectives on the potential impact of AI on the job market, concerns related to privacy, and apprehensions surrounding the misuse of the food industry to harm populations. Results were interesting.

When asked if they are worried about the use of AI in either the grocery industry or food service, while 26.5% are worried about the potential negative impact on jobs, 21.8% are concerned about privacy. Only 16.3% believe it’s a good idea. When asked if they are willing to shop at a grocery store knowing the company uses AI, while 30.2% are comfortable with the concept, 50.2% don’t know how they feel about it. Many remain confused about AI.

When asked about the use of AI for personalized recommendations for groceries or restaurant menu items, 23.4% think it’s a good idea. Other Canadians either think it is not necessary (31.6%), are not sure how they feel about it (28.5%), or are worried about privacy (16.5%).

The survey also looked at whether Canadians think that AI could improve grocery shopping or restaurant experiences. A total of 47.7% believe AI can offer faster checkout times at the grocery store, and 28.5% believe AI can offer a more personalized experience. A total of 28.0% believe AI can provide better product or dish recommendations.

In response to the question, “Will the use of AI in the grocery industry or restaurant sector become more widespread in the future?” the survey revealed that 48.3% of Canadians hold the view that AI will indeed become more prevalent in these sectors. On the other hand, 36.8% expressed uncertainty about the future adoption of AI.

In the survey, participants were asked about their level of trust in companies to use AI ethically within the grocery industry or restaurant sector. The results indicate that 40.3% of respondents expressed a lack of trust in food companies’ ethical use of AI. Interestingly, this figure is nearly twice as high as the 21.9% of Canadians who share the same sentiment towards food companies’ utilization of AI at present.

One of the questions posed in the survey aimed to gauge respondents’ opinions on the potential risks associated with the increasing utilization of AI in the food industry. Specifically, participants were asked whether they believed this growing trend could result in food supplies being exploited as weapons, thereby endangering consumers. Out of the respondents, 27.0% expressed concerns regarding this possibility, while a notable 48.2% admitted to having no clear perspective on the matter.

In essence, most Canadians don’t know what to think of AI, but many fear it. Trust is the essential ingredient for a successful recipe in the food industry’s AI revolution. The report revealed a concerning disparity as the number of Canadians who don’t trust food companies with AI is nearly double those who do. Building trust through ethical practices and transparent use of AI will be vital to meet the evolving needs of consumers.

Sylvain Charlebois
Sylvain Charlebois
Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is Senior Director of the Agri-Foods Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Also at Dalhousie, he is Professor in food distribution and policy in the Faculty of Agriculture. His current research interest lies in the broad area of food distribution, security and safety, and has published four books and many peer-reviewed journal articles in several publications. His research has been featured in a number of newspapers, including The Economist, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, the Globe & Mail, the National Post and the Toronto Star.

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