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Limelight | AI Enters the Wine Tasting World

China: 2024.05.24

Industry Innovator: Katerina Axelsson, CEO and Founder of Tastry


WINWSA 2023 Product Innovation Winner
Founder and CEO of Tastry
Named in 50 Next Awards: the Tech Disruptors category

Founded to reimagine how winemakers and wine lovers experience the world of wine, Tastry has provided solutions for over 200 wineries, distributors, and retailers across the United States while allowing consumers to discover wines that match their unique palates.

Katerina’s curiosity has not only transformed the experience of wine-buying but also helped to reduce waste throughout the industry. As a sensory science company, Tastry is turning heads across the globe, not only in the wine industry, but in other sensory-based markets, such as taste and fragrances. Her technology is proving that Tastry has not only created a new category for AI, but that Tastry is an AI company that is commanding market attention.

How is the team of Tastry dedicated to revolutionizing the wine landscape by bridging the gap between sensory sciences and taste? Read WINWSA’s Limelight featured interview with the founder Katerina Axelsson for the full story.

“Brilliant people are motivated by the ability to make an impact in a mission they believe in.”

——Katerina Axelsson

Tastry is a technology that predicts which wines an individual is going to like before they try them, using two proprietary data sets: wine’s chemistry and a database of 248 million consumer palates.

The initial goal of Tastry was to solve these problems, and it was accomplished with five innovations:

· A unique analytical chemistry methodology.
· The ability to “decode the flavor matrix” of the wine.
· The ability to “decode the palate matrix” of consumers.
· The ability to predict which wines an individual is going to like before they try them.
· The ability to provide the winemaker tools to quickly and inexpensively explore what-if scenarios.

Q: How many years have you been in the drinks business?

K.A: I have been working in the wine industry for over a decade having worked at several wineries before founding Tastry in 2017.

Q: What makes you devoted yourself to the wine and spirits sector?

K.A: While in college studying chemistry, I worked in the wine industry and began noticing discrepancies in industry scores for batches of identical wine. This is when I realized the need for an unbiased scoring system rooted in analytical chemistry and consumer preferences. Both myself and the team at Tastry are dedicated to revolutionizing the wine landscape by bridging the gap between sensory sciences and taste.

Q: What are the main values that Tastry offers to producers and retailers? What are the top 3 cases / projects you are mostly proud of?

K.A: Tastry offers unique differentiation that equips retailers, distributors, and wine producers with tools to connect with consumers on a truly individual level. Tastry’s technology enables producers to apply consumer sentiment intelligence directly into their wine formulation to deliver more consumer-targeted products, mitigating the risks of going to market with wines that won’t perform well.

It is hard to pinpoint which three projects throughout Tastry’s history I am most proud of, but a few client successes that help summarize the company’s differentiators do stand out.

One of the success stories that underscore the effectiveness of Tastry’s technology is our collaboration with WarRoom Cellars, a central-coast wine company. By leveraging Tastry data, we helped them fine-tune their oak and tannin levels, resulting in their wines being ranked in the top 10% of consumer favorites.

Our work with Mendocino Wine Company is a testament to the practical benefits of Tastry’s technology. They were facing a situation where they needed to identify unusual compounds in a batch of grapes. Typically, this would require sending samples to specialized labs, a time-consuming and costly process. However, with Tastry’s tailored system, they were able to address their specific needs, saving them valuable time and money.

Standing out in a competitive market can be a challenge, so being able to help a Washington state wine producer have their largest producing SKU do precisely this in one of the most competitive price-point segments ($18-$20) was amazing to see. By implementing Tastry’s technology, they could evaluate their Cabernet Sauvignon’s performance against competitors and match themselves with their target demographic.

Q: Could you reveal the current distribution of Tastry’s clients by country/region if US is not the only market? What are the most common inquiries from customers? How they see new technology applications in their sector?

K.A: Our clients are primarily in North America, but we have clients on all continents except Antarctica!

Our most common inquiry is how wineries, distributors and retailers can achieve greater business success and competitiveness in the industry by better understanding their consumers.

The wine industry is steeped in tradition, and a large function of our work is helping the industry envision how to use technology to better serve its overall goals. All of our applications are rooted in understanding and meeting the ever-evolving consumer needs, trends, and preferences.

Q: What are the main transformations & changes in the industry you have experienced so far?

K.A: One significant change I have seen in the wine industry is the emergence of retailers, big and small, breaking into the private label segment. The major retailers have the financial backing to invest the money needed for months of research to produce the right blends to put their private labels on. Still, the smaller retailers likely do not have the same luxury. However, for both of them, time is money, and this process can take months to come up with what they feel is the right blend. With technology like Tastry, this process can be done much more effectively in a shorter period while mitigating the risks of launching a product without knowledge about what the end consumer will actually like.

Q: How important AI and a range of technological innovations to the traditional industries such as wine & spirits? What are your predictions for transformations in wine market.

K.A: Many people these days are fearful of AI taking their jobs. Still, when implemented correctly, AI can help people and companies become more efficient by reaching the right audiences in the right place. This is especially true in the wine and spirits industry. The importance of integrating AI technology to enhance customer satisfaction is paramount.

As younger generations, like Gen-Z become of legal drinking age, they become the market the industry needs to target. Having never known a world without the internet and smartphones, Gen-Z is very much at home on social media platforms and is receptive to content inspired by personalized algorithms to influence their purchasing behaviors, so the wine and spirits industry must adapt.

Q: From the methodology that Tastry applies, what are the main trends discovered by this innovative tool, in terms of consumers’ preference and flavor preferences in wines

K.A: There are many “wine quizzes” on the market that simply pair a consumer with a wine that advertises a particular flavor that was indicated in their quiz. For example, if someone answered that they enjoy chocolate flavors, these arbitrary quizzes would recommend any wines notating hints of chocolate flavors.

However, at Tastry, we know that each human palate is as unique as a fingerprint. Our palette quiz individualizes recommendations by decoding the flavor and aroma matrices of wines by chemically analyzing thousands of products in our lab, and running them against the unique consumer palate of each individual. Our recommendations are therefore specific to each person or target group’s tastes.

Q: Given that your previous work and academic background were not related to AI, what prompted you to establish Tastry, an AI-based lab

K.A: As soon as I started working in the wine industry during my time at Cal Poly, I noticed drastic variances in wine rating scores in the industry, which was due to the scoring system being too biased. With my background in chemistry, I realized there had to be a better, scientific, data-backed approach that could produce an unbiased scoring system.

As AI was just beginning to take flight, I joined forces with like-minded individuals to bring together science, technology (AI) and taste.

Q: What do you enjoy most in your career? The biggest challenge you have encountered as a woman in the industry? What drives you to keep going?

K.A: As a technology entrepreneur, I enjoy managing a dynamic environment and nimble team. As a small team we are able to make decisions and take direction very quickly.

I would not say that as a female, I have encountered any unique challenges or disadvantages. In fact, I have mostly seen benefits and advantages as there are so many cultural incentives to uplift aspiring female business owners and entrepreneurs. Running an emerging technology business is difficult for anybody in the best of circumstances as challenging the status quo has always been a massive undertaking. I am motivated to keep going because of the incredible impact we see Tastry make every day. Brick by brick, we have earned our place in the industry.

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Photo Credit: Katerina Axelsson