Nestlé, Unilever, Walmart and others look at blockchain with IBM

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: ©IBM
Picture: ©IBM

Related tags Food safety Supply chain Food

Dole, Nestlé, Tyson Foods, Unilever and Walmart are part of a consortium with IBM which will identify areas where the food supply chain can benefit from blockchain.

The consortium, which also includes Driscoll’s, Golden State Foods, Kroger, McCormick and Company and McLane Company, said it would strengthen consumer confidence.

Blockchain technology is an electronic ledger under decentralised control that can trace transactions and assets. Food products can be digitally tracked from suppliers to store shelves and consumers.

With insights from the collaboration, IBM plans to introduce a food safety tool built on IBM Blockchain that supply chain participants around the world can connect into. 

IBM said it would benefit from insights gained working with the firms to better tailor future blockchain offerings for food and other industries.

Faster traceback

Many of the issues impacting food safety such as cross-contamination, spread of foodborne illness and economic burden of recalls are magnified by lack of access to information and traceability.

It can take weeks to identify the point of contamination, causing further illness, lost revenue and wasted product.

Nestlé said it is a major supplier and partner with Walmart and retailers in other countries.

“Nestlé has been involved in industry collaboration, especially through the Consumer Goods Forum, to improve traceability and hence consumer trust.

We are keen to explore new technologies that improve the access to information. ​At present, this work is at an early stage and we look forward to working with the partners in the foundation to overcome challenges in all parts of the value chain.’’

All participants of the supply chain - growers, suppliers, processors, distributors, retailers, regulators and consumers - can gain permissioned access to known and trusted information regarding the origin and state of food for their transactions.

IBM said this can enable food providers and other members to use a blockchain network to trace contaminated product to its source in less time to ensure removal from store shelves and reduce the spread of illnesses.  

The 10 companies were chosen as they understand the importance of collaboration when it comes to tackling a global challenge in the industry, said the firm.

When asked about incorrect information in the blockchain, it said companies will still need to secure entry points for their data with traditional security systems but it provides transparency into the source of transactions.

"Members have little incentive to purposely enter incorrect data because the source of that data can be quickly and easily pinpointed. That said, when mistakes happen, they can only be reversed by adding an additional transaction which provides a clear record of the activity."

IBM added it intends to make progress over the coming months but there are no definitive deadlines for the consortium.

Walmart work with blockchain

In trials in China and the US, IBM and Walmart demonstrated that blockchain can track a product from the farm through the supply chain to the retail shelf, in seconds instead of days or weeks.

Frank Yiannas, VP of food safety at Walmart, said it is looking forward to collaborating with others to see how the technology can be used as a more effective traceability and food safety tool.

“Blockchain technology enables a new era of end-to-end transparency in the global food system – equivalent to shining a light on food ecosystem participants that will further promote responsible actions and behaviors. It also allows all participants to share information rapidly and with confidence across a strong trusted network.”

IBM is also introducing an enterprise-grade production blockchain platform and consulting services.

It offers pricing options, starting at $0.50 per hour. To support blockchain ecosystems among different organizations, the cost can be shared across network members. 

Scott Stillwell, senior VP of food safety and quality assurance for Tyson Foods, said it was excited about the possibilities that come with the technology.

“Producing safe food is critical to our business; it appears blockchain can help provide trust not only about the origin of food, but also about how that food moved through the supply chain.”

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