I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed a shift towards a desire for traceability in the products that we consume every day. It amazes me how far we’ve come recently, from how we can make a conscious choice to buy a product, or not, based on its country of origin or distance travelled to now having the ability to trace the product back to the exact field your product’s ingredients came from. Enter blockchain technology, allowing us to make perhaps not better but definitely more informed decisions, by giving us that accountability and traceability that was previously unknown and certainly not always tracked accurately.
How the food industry can harness the power of blockchain technology is a key question for many as we learn more about how blockchain applications can be beneficial for companies and consumers. Hyped as a potentially game-changing pioneering innovation, blockchain technology is inspiring change and innovation in the global food and beverage industry – and although it’s still in the extremely early stages, blockchain technology offers the promise of disruption on a huge scale across multiple sectors including agri-food, retail and the ingredients business at large.
So, for the techy bit, what is it?
A blockchain, is a continuously growing list of encrypted transactions called “blocks” that are distributed to a network of computers. The structure of blockchain means that it is a decentralized, distributed and a public digital ledger that is used to record transactions across many computers, so that the record cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks and the collusion of the network. In turn, this allows the participants to verify and audit transactions inexpensively.
Example of early adopters: Food safety & contamination
Giants like Walmart, Nestlé, Unilever and Dole, are hopeful that the high-tech tool can be used to address traceability issues and tackle food safety problems. According to World Health Organization statistics, every year, one-in-ten people fall ill – and 400,000 die – due to contaminated food. Many of the critical issues impacting food safety such as cross-contamination, the spread of foodborne illness, unnecessary waste and the economic burden of recalls are magnified by lack of access to information and traceability. It can take weeks to identify the precise point of contamination, causing further illness, lost revenue and wasted product.
IBM believes that blockchain is ideally suited to help address these challenges because it establishes a trusted environment for all transactions. In the case of the global food supply chain, all participants – growers, suppliers, processors, distributors, retailers, regulators and consumers – can gain permission access to known and trusted information regarding the origin and state of food for their transactions.
This can enable food providers and other members of the ecosystem to use a blockchain network to trace contaminated product to its source in a short amount of time to ensure safe removal from store shelves and stem the spread of illnesses. Blockchain has the capability of transforming the way like-minded organisations collaborate, giving them a new heightened level of trust.
Blockchain takes transparency to a whole new level
Another major benefit of incorporating blockchain technology into food supply chain is its benefit in helping to overcome fraud. By making their supply chains accessible to the public and easy to understand, food and beverage companies can give 100 percent assurance on the authenticity of the product.
Consumers can look into the source of foods which are commonly faked or adulterated in some fashion – olive oil, fish, honey, meat, coffee, organics and many more – which strengthens trust in those products and helps justify premium price tags.
First ever beer placed on blockchain
A good example of this is a partnership by two Northern Ireland companies which have come together in a world-first for the beer industry. Downstream IPL, one of Label Tech’s customers, allows for full traceability of each bottle through the brewery and the supplier network to the ultimate consumer.
European Commission launches Blockchain Observatory and Forum
Earlier this month, the European Commission launched the EU Blockchain Observatory and Forum with the support of the European Parliament, designed to highlight key developments of blockchain technology, promote European actors and reinforce European engagement with multiple stakeholders involved in blockchain activities.
To sum up, it’s abundantly clear that many big players in the food and beverage industry believe the hype surrounding one of the most-talked-about technologies in 2018 and how it can be applied now and in the future.
However, consider this. Just last year, a Deloitte survey revealed that blockchain technology is emerging as a key business focus for US companies in many industries, with many executives in the consumer products and manufacturing and technology, media and telecommunications sectors planning their biggest investments.
While some executives place it among their company’s highest priorities, almost 40 percent of surveyed senior executives still have little or no knowledge about blockchain.
If you still count yourself among this set, then maybe it’s time to tune in to blockchain technology and how it can transform traceability and security concepts in a way never seen before in the industry.