Fi Global Insights is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Rethinking product development with ‘crystal ball’ technology

Article-Rethinking product development with ‘crystal ball’ technology

© iStock/skynesher innovation, NPD, skynesher, iStock-1467799746.jpg
The startup, Digital Bites, is pioneering the use of cutting-edge “crystal ball” technologies such as AI and virtual reality to help the food sector test and launch new products in a more informed and agile way.

The aim of Digital Bites, which was launched in 2022, is not to dictate how new ingredients or new products are made. Instead, the company aims to bridge the gap between consumer wishes and expectations, and ingredient or food manufacturers and food brands.

“Digital Bites is metaphorically a ‘crystal ball’ that allows product developers to virtually create realistic prototypes of concepts they want to test in the market,” explained CEO and co-founder Theodoros Sofianos. “This enables them to generate top-notch consumer insights and market knowledge, as if consumers were holding real products in their hands.”

Applying technology to generate products

The way it works is pretty simple. “An ingredient company can come with a business question, such as, ‘Would this ingredient be a commercial success in a certain category?’, or ‘What category is the best application for a certain colouring?’” said Sofianos.

“We use AI to generate realistic 3D objects – prototypes of the final product concept, which is usually a packaged food or beverage. Then the developed prototypes are automatically placed in a virtual world that replicates a consumption or purchase scenario, eg. a supermarket or restaurant.”

Real people – potential consumers – are then recruited to enter this virtual world, interacting with the new prototypes and with competing concepts or with already established products in the market. Algorithms interpret consumers’ behaviour to predict which products they like and why.

“Our technology can get consumer data from people of all geographies and demographics,” said Sofianos. “Yet we feel that we can create even more value for industry players that develop food products or product ingredients for the younger consumer audiences of Gen Z and Gen X – audiences that are tech-savvy and dislike the traditional market research methodologies.”

Filling a market need

Digital Bites was launched to fill this identified market need. Sofianos has an academic background in food science, but a passion about product management and digital tech.

“I thought, there must be tools out there to help me with that,” he explained. “About two years ago I started reviewing tools that promised to be agile, fast, or accurate, to help R&D and marketing departments find the next best product launch. I was honestly disappointed by my findings.”

He noted that around 90% of new food product launches fail within the first six months, regardless of any market research that has been conducted.

“Considering that products take several months to years to go from idea to launch, I was shocked by the magnitude of the problem,” he said.

Empowering marketing and R&D professionals

This was what led to the creation of Digital Bites. The aim, said Sofianos, was always to find ways of empowering marketing and R&D professionals to build the right products and increase their success rates.

“When we first launched our platform, we anticipated that the larger ingredient and food companies would be the ones mostly interested in our proposition,” he said. “Nevertheless, the issue of distributed accountability and slow sales cycles, combined with the much more urgent need for top-notch, yet affordable, consumer insights of medium and smaller players in the market, made us reconsider.”

The company is therefore primarily focused on startups, scaleups, and medium-sized ingredient or food manufacturers. “We have received strong interest from food and ingredient startups,” Sofianos said.

“Paraphrasing the words of the marketing director of one company, they love how we can recreate the moment of truth for product concepts before they have to be built, and literally put them into the hands of consumers.”

Connected with the food ecosystem

Digital Bites was a finalist at Fi Europe’s Startup Innovation Challenge in the Most Innovative Service or AI Solution Supporting F&B category.

“Pitching on stage next to all the brilliant founders was a great honour,” said Sofianos.

“Getting connected with the ecosystem of FI has helped us a lot, and has generated a lot of interest for collaborations from the industry. It feels like we have an extra ‘badge’ to showcase when we talk to potential customers that further legitimises our work and fosters more fruitful talks.”

The next three months will see Digital Bites finalising a few pilot projects, to further improve the quality of consumer experiments being conducted through the company’s platform. A dashboard is also being created to showcase results.


“We are also actively searching for innovative ingredient and food companies that have a passion for the customers they serve to commercialise our brand-new technology and form lasting win-win partnerships,” said Sofianos.