World’s biggest retailers make food production safer with IBM’s blockchain

By Jeppe Mølgaard

The world’s biggest retail companies use IBM’s blockchain platform IBM Food Trust to make their food production safer and more efficient throughout the supply chain. The platform has now been released to the general public. 

Walmart, Nestle, Kroger, Carrefour. The list goes on… The past year and a half some of the world’s biggest retailers have cooperated with IBM testing an ambitious project, to put the supply chain of retailer’s food production on a blockchain platform.

Now the test phase is over. And with millions of food items scanned successfully, all companies now have the opportunity to source and monitor their food production on the platform.

“We have gotten a very positive response from the retailers. They all have the option of tracing their goods on the blockchain and understand what happens in seconds instead of hours or days calling around to the different intermediaries,” says the head of IBM Blockchain Nordic, Christian Lassen.

The purpose of the platform is primarily to create transparency in a supply chain and monitor the different intermediaries to make sure they handle a company’s product the right way. This is something that has always been an issue for large companies, says the head of department for Digitalization at Copenhagen Business school, professor Jan Damsgaard.

“Today, companies with large supply chains have to trust who they do business with. But with blockchain, you don’t have to trust anyone. The technology allows you to monitor the activities of your whole supply chain at once regarding transactions of goods, services and data. As it is now, companies can only verify the actions of one intermediary at a time. It’s a whole new way of transparency, which we haven’t seen before,” he says.

Blockchain technology is able to create this transparency firstly because it is decentralized, which means the company and all intermediaries have the exact same information available at the same time. Secondly, because data already written in the blockchain cannot be manipulated, and therefore all data can always be traced back to who made the input.

“The technology provides a new way of interaction that is more direct and transparent – it creates completely trustworthy communication between all parties,” says Christian Lassen.

Big companies want transparency for customers

After the platform was released for purchase to all companies around the world the list of participants continues to grow according to IBM. Two companies stand out, one of these is the biggest retailer in the world with a market capitalisation of more than 293 billion dollars, Walmart Inc, who from September 2019 have required all producers of their leafy green vegetables to use the blockchain platform.

“We’re committed to providing our customers with safe, quality foods. Our customers deserve a more transparent supply chain. We felt the one-step-up and one-step-back model of food traceability was outdated for the 21st century. This is a smart, technology-supported move that will greatly benefit our customers and transform the food system, benefitting all stakeholders,”  says Frank Yiannas, Vice President of Food Safety for Walmart Inc. in a press release.

The second stand out company French Carrefour is the fourth biggest retailer in the world. They have chosen to use the platform to create more safety around their food production.

“Being a founding member of the IBM Food Trust platform is a great opportunity for Carrefour to accelerate and widen the integration of blockchain technology to our products in order to provide our clients with safe and undoubted traceability,” said Laurent Vallée, General Secretary of Carrefour in a press release.

But it is not only in food production that blockchain has the potential to create a more efficient and transparent process, according to Christian Lassen, Head of IBM Blockchain Nordic:

“In many cases where transactions of data or value are being made, blockchain has the potential to optimize the process and make it better, safer and more transparent, dependent on the situation and use case. I think, that the market for blockchain will continue to grow within supply chains, KYC, payments and trade finance because there is a need for more transparency,” he says.

As an example, Christian Lassen mentions another blockchain platform IBM has developed – TradeLens. A supply chain digitization solution for the shipping industry where shippers, shipping lines, freight forwarders, port and terminal operators and customs authorities can interact more efficiently through real-time access to shipping data and shipping documents.

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