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Food & Beverage

Japan sushi chain uses AI app to select tastier tuna

Amid COVID-19, buyers can screen for quality without visiting processors

Kara Sushi buyers can assess the quality of tuna remotely using the Tuna Scope smartphone app.(Source photo by Reuters, Kura Sushi)

OSAKA -- Japanese sushi restaurant chain Kura Sushi has introduced an artificial intelligence-based smartphone app capable of assessing the quality of tuna, a popular sushi topping.

The app, Tuna Scope, promises to be a useful tool for commercial buyers, who find it difficult to visit suppliers abroad due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Tuna Scope was developed by Japanese advertising leader Dentsu and its partners.

Kura Sushi says the smartphone app makes it possible to determine the quality of tuna quickly and accurately, and will help it procure a steady supply of high-grade tuna, even if buyers cannot travel abroad to inspect the fish in person.

The freshness and taste of tuna varies widely. Human experts judge the quality of tuna by looking at the cross-section of the tail. Tuna Scope accesses a database of quality assessments made by human connoisseurs and a huge amount of image data to render its judgments.

After scanning the image of a cross-section, Tuna Scope rates the tuna on a three-tier scale: Superior grade A, high-grade B and regular-grade M. Screening takes a few seconds and delivers 90% accuracy, Kura Sushi says.

Company officials in charge of procurement traditionally visit production sites and processing plants at home and abroad to assess the taste and quality of tuna, and to sign purchase contracts.

"Even if we cannot check [the quality of tuna] at the site, we can procure high-quality tuna without any problem," using the app, says Makoto Tanaka, Kura Sushi's executive vice president.

Kura Sushi sells more than 70 million plates of tuna sushi annually and procures 70% of its sushi toppings overseas. It is considering using a similar AI app to rate the quality of other fish species in the future.

Tuna rated A by Tuna Scope are sold as superior grade kiwami jukusei AI maguro (tuna) at Kura Sushi restaurants and elsewhere for 200 yen ($1.86) per plate, excluding tax, for a limited time, from July 10.

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