BakePlan Software has been awarded a grant of £43,600 by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK.

The York-based tech firm was awarded the funding, which part-matches its own investment, after participating in Innovate UK’s Emerging and Enabling Technologies programme.

The grant will be invested in machine learning and AI technologies to develop a new system that can see food products, count them and record data about them autonomously.

BakePlan Software specialises in demand-forecasting software that advises supermarket bakers and other in-store food production staff on the right products to make at the best times of the day. This improves product availability, freshness and sales. Importantly, it also reduces waste.

Britain’s leading grocery retailers have all pledged to cut their food waste by 20% by 2025 in an agreement known as the Courtauld Commitment. Independently, some retailers have gone further. M&S, which uses BakePlan forecasting throughout its UK and Eire stores, wants to cut its food waste by 50% by 2025 as part of its Plan A 2025 sustainability programme.

BakePlan Software’s project aims to eliminate the manual data inputting needed by food retail staff to control waste, thus accelerating the adoption of its solutions. The new AI-based system will also use speech recognition technology to interact with store staff.

Jane Tyler, managing director of BakePlan Software (pictured, left), says: “This award from Innovate UK will enable us to take our concept from the drawing board to reality. We will do this by mixing machine learning, autonomous imaging, speech recognition and mobile/cloud internet data delivery.”

Tyler, who is also the vice chair of the British Society of Baking industry organisation, adds: “BakePlan’s goal is to gain market penetration across the supermarket, food-to-go and convenience store sectors in the UK and to export to European and global markets. As well as boosting our export opportunities, Innovate UK’s grant will help us to grow our company and our skillset.”

Commenting on the award, York Central MP Rachael Maskell (pictured, right) says: “BakePlan is an inspiring tech solution to address many of the challenges facing the baking sector. From sophisticated programming through to its latest innovation of bakery product digital image-learning, the industry can now accurately use data to map demand and therefore production.

“Not only does smart technology reduce much waste in the baking industry, it also saves businesses significant amounts of money. Food waste has become a massive issue in the UK, so it is good to know that a local York firm has come up with solutions that can support small baking businesses through to large supermarket chains in the UK and overseas.

“I hope companies like BakePlan Software, who are behind this product, will inspire young people to consider a career in the tech sector to provide the solutions to the challenges facing us all.”

Explaining the technical approach to the project, BakePlan’s chief technology officer Steve Dickinson says: “Using deep learning and cognitive algorithms, we are going to build an image processing system to detect and count specific food products. We will “train” our computer model from a multitude of 2D and 3D food and generic images. This will aid the model to learn to recognise new types of objects, allowing the application to intelligently distinguish between different products and the number of each within the image displayed.”