It’s a constant challenge for consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies to innovate at a pace that matches the dynamic demands of their markets.

Even leading consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies like Procter & Gamble (P&G) find it challenging to innovate at a pace that matches dynamic market demands. For that reason, P&G uses cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI) to reimagine and transform many parts of its business. It wanted to push the boundaries by using AI to increase the speed and innovation of product development, particularly in formulation products.

Formulation selects, processes and combines a product’s ingredients to deliver specific properties, functionality and performance. P&G’s formulation products—such as dishwashing liquid—are based on a combination of dozens of ingredients selected from thousands of potential components.

The formulation development process includes manual steps and can involve physical testing, which can significantly increase the time it takes to get these products to market.

Formulation developers, who design these products, use their expertise to create products to best meet consumer needs. They work with a huge amount of information and variables, such as ingredients, compounds, constraints, and regional and customer preferences. They need to strike the right balance to generate a potential market-relevant product idea that satisfies the company’s margin targets.

"No matter the challenges around us, we are always looking for ways to better serve consumers and to create value for our shareholders."

— David Cumming, VP Digital Innovation-M&S – R&D Fabric & Home Care, P&G

P&G wanted to enable new ways of using its proprietary, historic data, formulation models and experience to come up with big, breakthrough ideas as well as rapidly develop incremental improvements and get them to market faster.

What Accenture did

Drawing on our emerging technology and design professionals, we co-created a "Human + Machine" toolset with P&G that drew inspiration from other industries to enable faster innovation and deliver new value.

An Accenture Labs team worked with P&G data, process and product formulation specialists and leading academics over six-months.

Our first step: Identifying potential Human + Machine collaboration areas in the product development process, which would enable P&G to develop new products faster. Next, we introduced P&G to proven AI assets we developed for other industries and explored how to apply the underlying concepts to CPG.

P&G then validated the experimental prototypes we developed of two leading-edge approaches. One uses Explainable AI to accelerate the formulation developer’s ability to make small, incremental improvements to existing products. In the second, Generative Networks guide developers toward new formulations and product areas that have the potential to deliver breakthroughs.

The result enables developers to amplify their talents and knowledge with AI’s limitless capacity. It suggests formulations that meet parameters the developer specifies, giving fast, curated inspiration. For example, if P&G needs to replace an ingredient that increases the foam for a dishwashing liquid, developers can ask the AI to recommend new formulations without this ingredient, at the original price point. If the amount of a new ingredient suggested will impact the color, the developer can then set a limit for this ingredient and ask the AI to generate a new set of formulations. This iterative approach homes in on an optimal formulation.

"We have very much valued the opportunity to partner with Accenture and learn about the application of new AI techniques which enable our people to unlock insights and value from our proprietary data and expert knowledge."

— David Cumming, VP Digital Innovation-M&S – R&D Fabric & Home Care, P&G

People and culture

The work highlights P&G’s innovative experimentation mindset with a business focus. The power of the disruptive scientific ideas the Labs brought to the table, combined with P&G’s willingness to apply them to real-world challenges and data, meant we could bridge the gap between research and experimentation and commercialization in the CPG sector.

It also shows the power of creativity in tackling challenges, enabling P&G employees to narrow the relevant search space quickly, rather than having to manually find and consider thousands of possible formulation combinations. This can be a time-consuming task, especially when it involves tweaking an existing product formulation, for instance, to find a replacement ingredient because the existing one has become too expensive. With AI as a teammate, formulation professionals can unleash their creativity in new and unexpected ways, as well as spend more time working on strategic, value-added activities like new product development.

P&G further enhanced its skills in applying leading-edge AI techniques to product development. Building on P&G’s existing AI capabilities, we expanded the company’s expertise to human-AI collaboration so it can now get the best from its people and capabilities in a new, collaborative way.

Our collaborative research approach—working across disciplines and domains—gave P&G a framework and iterative methods to get real, new value from their innovation processes. These capabilities can be used to foster Human + Machine collaboration in other areas, such as operations. P&G is now exploring how these approaches could make an impact across the organization.

Value delivered

P&G has a new way to use AI—not just to develop new products but to enable and augment its people. P&G is pushing into the frontier of Human + Machine co-creation, to enhance employee productivity and ingenuity.

The unique AI-based formulation toolset gives P&G a new capability: to innovate and improve products quickly and in a more targeted fashion with the aim of continuing to delight the consumer. The collaboration between human and machine combines the best of P&G’s 180-plus years of expertise and knowledge with AI to open up new areas of product development.

P&G can use this capability to find new CPG product lines and improve responsiveness. For instance, it can help P&G rapidly react to market changes that impact an existing product, like an improved competing product. And it enables them to be more resilient to supply chain disruptions. For example, if key ingredients suddenly become unavailable, P&G now has the capability to quickly identify effective alternatives.

P&G can also reduce its reliance on physical testing for new products thanks to greater confidence that the formulation suggestions perform as expected. This translates into reduced product development costs. In addition, with fast, curated inspiration for new formulations, the company is better positioned to develop more tailored products for specific market segments and get these customized products to market faster than ever before.

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