Katerina Axelsson (Wine and Viticulture, ’15) can’t turn water into wine, but she can match your palate with the perfect wine in merely seconds. Her business, Tastry, integrates artificial intelligence software, sensory science and chemistry into in-store kiosks and a smartphone app to match a customer’s flavor preferences with food and drink products, particularly wine.
Axelsson, who founded the company in 2015 while a student at Cal Poly, has been profiled by Forbes, Wine Enthusiast and Coresight Research about her startup, which aims to make buying wine easier, faster and less stressful. Axelsson said the idea for the business was born while she worked as a chemist for a custom crush facility (a bonded winery that makes wine for other wine brands). While there she learned that it was common practice to make a large batch of wine, sell half to one winery and half to another. “The same wine would be bottled and sold under two different names, labels and price points and receive different industry scores from the same critics,” she said. “I had a hypothesis that there was a more honest and transparent way to recommend wine by using a combination of analytical and flavor chemistry.”
So Axelsson got to work. With the permission of her employer to use the company lab to analyze hundreds of wine samples — she spent countless hours, often working until 3 a.m., to gather the data she needed. She then worked with a Cal Poly computer science professor to process the dataset, leading eventually to a melding of chemistry and data science to create a patent-pending technology to predict consumer preferences for sensory-based products.
After years of development, the AI-generated quiz takes 20 seconds or less and helps consumers sift through hundreds or thousands of wines in seconds to, “find the ones they will love,” Axelsson said, by letting them filter by occasion, varietal, terroir, price and much more. “It can also pair your wine to charcuterie, a group of friends, what you’re having for dinner, and over 1.5 million recipes.”
The in-store kiosk can be found across the U.S., including Fresh Market in San Luis Obispo, California. The company is also launching a pilot with Walmart in the United Kingdom. Tastry is the driving technology behind a new mobile application called “Bottlebird,” the beta version that is currently available for iOS and Android. “We expect to be in 2,500 retail locations in the next 12 months,” Axelsson said.
She plans to continue to expand the business into additional products and applications. Inquiries from companies interested in the technology to help recommend everything from coffee to hot sauce continue to flood in. For now, Tastry will continue to refine its technology for everything from fragrance to spirits, but it will keep its main focus on the wine industry, allowing wineries to better identify markets of opportunity. “Tastry recently started onboarding wineries onto our software, and we work with one of the largest wine conglomerates in the U.S.,” she said. “With this partner, we proved that we can predict the aggregate consumer score out of five stars for wines before they hit the market to within a one-tenth of a point.”
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