What's next for blockchain in the food industry?

By Natasha Spencer

- Last updated on GMT

Could blockchain technology improve food tracing capabilities?
Could blockchain technology improve food tracing capabilities?

Related tags: blockchain, Food tech, Transparency, Traceability

Blockchain can trace and record transactions to strengthen food management, safety and quality in the food industry. We explore what 2019 developments have done for embracing blockchain in food, and where we can expect it to head next.

European retailers and food manufacturers are maximising their efforts in food tracking to optimise transparency in the supply chain. A whole host of brands have activated blockchain technology to highlight the need for product and supply transparency that communicates safety and quality.

Looking after the supply chain

European supermarkets and manufacturers are striving to reduce the complexity and potential confusion of supply chains by implementing QR codes and product labelling. Carrefour and Nestlé are one collaboration that also now use blockchain to share product information on its Mousline instant mashed potato.

Supply chains are seeing a revitalisation in management and handling by offering detailed information on member profiles to increase certainty over the safety and quality of food.

Utilising blockchain-based applications also reduces the amount of time required to source comprehensive information on suppliers and communicate this back to shoppers. Unsurprisingly, at the top of the agenda, is removing contaminated food from our shelves. Blockchain is seen as the answer to overcoming the prevalence of contaminated food entering the supply chain. It provides reassurance to consumers while alerting both retailers and manufacturers to food identified as unsafe.

Transparency in agriculture

Increasingly, in recent years, companies are embracing the capabilities of blockchain technology to create concepts that specifically appeal to the business-to-consumer organic agriculture sector.

The agriculture industry is also using blockchain to maximise its potential in transport, logistics and transactional costs. It is achieving this by improving its inventory tracking and shipping processes and reducing associated transaction costs by avoiding the need for third-party involvement from banks.

Brand transparency

With consumers demanding high quality and sustainability, food retailers and manufacturers are carving out strategies to prove their responsibility and accountability.

Information-gathering is a key component in ensuring food safety and quality in today’s market. Shoppers actively look for the origin and food production methods to understand the entire food supply chain. Blockchain means consumers can access labelling information on smartphones. It also gives supermarkets the means to access large amounts of data that travels through the supply chain. The technology provides in-depth tracking that ensures food quality will be possible.

French retail group, Auchan Retail, is using blockchain technology to boost supply chain traceability. As the brand campaigns for good, healthy and local, Auchan Retail has launched its tech and subsequently rolled this out to France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Senegal.

Summing up the reasons for centring its efforts on maximising transparency, the company revealed: “From seed to plate, information on all stages of a product’s life is now available to consumers in a fully transparent manner.”

The blockchain-housed platform contains all producers, processors, operators, member records and product information to ensure traceability takes place throughout the supply chain. Products in-store, display QR codes on their labels to provide direct and comprehensive information to the shopper, influencing their buying process.

The multi-interface technology boasts an inventory management tool to give local authorities access to farm-issued certificates; a B2B application that logistic chain-based operators use to provide product traceability data; and a B2C application to enable customers to access information on the product life cycle from selection to store placement.

Mozzarella is another area witnessing the impact of blockchain technology, with Italian dairy company Spinosa implementing the first blockchain-certified entire Mozzarella di Bufala Campana PDO (Buffalo mozzarella from Campania PDO). Each product is complete with the ‘Blockchain – Quality Certificate’ label and QR code.

Commenting on the importance of applying the EY OpsChain Food Traceability solution, Giuseppe Perrone, EY Blockchain Hub Mediterranean Leader, said at the time: “We are facing a new paradigm in the food market.”

“The digitalisation of the supply chain is a strategic asset for agri-food companies. For Spinosa, the blockchain will be particularly important in foreign markets, where 74% of consumers are sensitive to the concept of authenticity,”​ added Perrone.

So where are we now?

As blockchain matures, it becomes front and centre in the food industry. Leading IT company, IBM Italia, is spearheading the technology’s evolving and ever-present capabilities, for example. Teaming up with Barilla, the IT giant is leveraging blockchain through its developed pilot project that guarantees the origin, product quality and raw materials of foodstuffs.

Focusing on proving credibility to generate trust amongst consumers, IBM Italia and Italian multinational food company, Barilla, have applied the pilot process to certify fresh Italian basil.

Celebrating its experimental approach to improving the Italian agri-food sector, Barilla has received the first Blockchain Award 2019. The accolade marks Barilla’s identification in developing and applying the technology to food.

At present, a lack of business process standardisation is problematic. Without a comprehensive, yet simple and quick process driving supply chain management, food manufacturers will need to provide their information each and every time they do business with a food retailer incurring additional time and expense. Alternatively, without this, the retailer risks facing a potential contamination issue. Embracing blockchain overcomes this industry hurdle.

Through its success, IBM has since teamed up with Chainyard to launch Trust Your Supplier, a new blockchain network aimed at improving supplier qualification, validation, onboarding and life cycle information management.

"Blockchain has the ability to completely transform how companies onboard and manage their supplier network for the future,"​ revealed Renee Ure, Chief Supply Chain Officer for Lenovo's Data Center Group.

The food retailers and manufacturers next step is to focus on not only achieving safety and quality but also notifying its consumers of this guarantee. Looking ahead, brands will be centring their efforts on demonstrating blockchain benefits to retailers, manufacturers and shoppers — while emphasising the technology's capabilities to lower costs, increase simplicity and reduce the amount of time spent searching for information.

Related topics: Science

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