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Unilever has partnered with professional services company Accenture to “explore new applications to scale generative AI”.

The fmcg giant will look to leverage Accenture’s AI and data practice – into which Accenture announced a $3bn investment over three years in June – as well as its proprietary ‘switchboard’, which allows a user to select a combination of AI models to address business problems, and optimise them for cost or accuracy.

The work will commence at Unilever’s global AI R&D centre Horizon3 Labs, which opened in Toronto in November. The city is home to one of Accenture’s six generative AI studios across North America.

“We are excited about building on our long-standing partnership with Accenture to step up our innovation agenda and drive value for our consumers, retailers, and distributors,” said Steve McCrystal, chief enterprise and technology officer at Unilever. “Horizon3 Labs is a unique platform for collaboration and co-creation, and we look forward to working with Accenture and other partners to take our investment in AI to a new level.”

Unilever will be able to tap Accenture data and AI experts as part of the partnership. Accenture is doubling its AI workforce to 80,000 people through hiring, acquisitions and training.

“This collaboration builds on our relationship of more than three decades with Unilever, which continues to raise the bar as a digital powerhouse and industry leader,” said Julie Sweet, chair and CEO at Accenture. “The combination of Horizon3 Labs’ disruptive innovation with Accenture’s deep expertise and strong ecosystem partnerships will help Unilever scale AI and generative AI more rapidly and responsibly across its business and discover new pathways to value.”

Unilever recently established a ‘Generative AI Marketing Collective’ – a cross-functional steering committee that “can help our brands and marketers navigate the responsible use of generative AI and scale our learnings across the business for the future”. 

Generative AI is a type of artificial intelligence concerned with creating new data and content based on simple prompts, that is similar to existing data and content.

A spokesperson told The Grocer the company’s “goal is to continue growing our understanding of generative AI and learn through controlled experimentation”.

“This is important given that this is a dynamic and rapidly changing space,” they added.

Within marketing, Unilever has a proprietary generative AI solution that auto-updates product descriptions on websites to respond to search trends. “This helps our brands to appear when shoppers are looking for specific products. The goal here with this application is to save time and cost to monitor and re-write descriptions,” the spokesperson explained.

The auto-updates also name and develop descriptions to a high quality for all types of products and new launches and helps to generate relevant, search optimised content.

The company has also developed an artificially intelligent algorithm that “helps spot, screen and size ideas and trending opportunities” for NPD. It has been used to size prototype, test and launch Sunsilk Onion & Jojoba Oil Shampoo – after onion and jojoba were identified as trending shampoo ingredients – in fewer than 100 days. It was also used to launch a Lakme Vitamin C face care range in a similar timeframe after the vitamin was identified as a trending ingredient.

Unilever currently has more than 400 applications of AI across disciplines including marketing, supply chain, and R&D.