A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.*
Growing calls for greater supply chain traceability, product authentication, and the provision of more detailed product information have seen a rise in the use of blockchain to improve the transparency around consumer goods.
Originally devised to support the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, blockchain is an open, distributed ledger used to securely and permanently record transactions between two parties. By allowing information to be shared, but not copied or altered, its ability to offer transparency and immutability of data makes it ideal for use in those cases – such as the food supply chain – that are becoming increasingly dependent on greater information-sharing, visibility, and trust.
According to supply chain specialists arc-net, consumers are starting to demand more provenance information, particularly regarding food safety and animal welfare. Concerns over food traceability after a Polish abattoir was found to have exported beef from sick cows, for example, recently led the President of France to call for an increase in the use of the technology in agriculture. Monsieur Macron’s announcement came just weeks before French supermarket giant Auchan announced its use of blockchain to enable its customers to track the provenance of organic vegetables.
With three-quarters of consumers apparently willing to switch to brands that provide more in-depth product information beyond what is provided on the physical label, and with demand expected to grow, the degree of traceability that blockchain affords is timely.
The global expansion of food production means that produce now goes through so many stages from farm to table that it can be hard to assure its provenance. Restaurants, for example, can struggle to guarantee the quality of the food they serve to their customers. And, in light of the Polish beef scandal and the recent E.coli outbreak that led the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue a blanket warning against eating romaine lettuce, this is not good for business.
In an effort to address this issue, Avery Dennison recently announced a partnership with the Wyoming Business Council and Beefchain, the first company to place cattle in a blockchain, to allow consumers to track the meat on their plate back to the ranch on which it was raised. Using RFID tags, each individual case of beef carries a digital identifier. Hashed into Beefchain’s blockchain, these identifiers allow each case to be quickly, accurately, and securely traced through every step of its journey. As well as assuaging consumer concerns over the quality of the food they’re eating, the use of blockchain gives ranchers greater control over the prices they are able to command for their produce by allowing them to demonstrate that what they’re selling is exactly what they say it is.
Authenticity and sustainability
Blockchain can be used to tackle counterfeiting too. A significant problem for high profile wineries and distilleries, the presence on the market of fake wine and spirits costs the EU around €2.7 billion a year.
The scale of the issue prompted technology company Everledger to take action. The company, whose blockchain was already employed by the diamond industry, entered into a partnership with Avery Dennison to create digitally traceable wine labels. Initially rolled out with Wine Trade Network’s “Appellation Earth” wines from Napa Valley, each label contains a unique digital identity that is recorded on Everledger’s blockchain. Using NFC technology, retailers are able to identify the provenance of individual bottles, tracking them at each stage of the supply chain.
In addition, this allows customers to learn more about the history of what they’re drinking – which -- when almost half of consumers feel they don’t know enough about a product despite reading the label -- can only be an advantage. U.S. canned seafood producer Bumble Bee Foods recognized the importance of this – particularly when it comes to the sustainability of its product. By using SAP’s Cloud Platform Blockchain to trace the origin of its Yellowfin tuna, the company enables its customers to quickly scan a QR code to learn where a specific fish was caught, its weight, and whether it was certified as sustainable.
Fast, accurate, immutable
One of blockchain’s greatest benefits is its efficiency. Walmart revealed that it allowed mangos to be traced back to their point of origin approximately two seconds – something that would have taken nearly a week using traditional techniques.
Consumers today are more concerned about the provenance and sustainability of the food on their plate, and over time will gravitate to those brands able to provide them with the information they seek.
By accurately and immutably recording this information on a blockchain, and making it available in almost real time through scanning a QR code, NFC, or RFID tag, retailers can better meet these rising consumer concerns, in addition to more efficiently managing their supply chains and combating the threat to their bottom line posed by counterfeit goods.
It’s not just food and drink where blockchain has the potential to ease concerns about provenance, authenticity, and sustainability. At Copenhagen Fashion Summit this month, Avery Dennison revealed a partnership with Matthew Williams’ apparel label 1017 ALYX 9SM to put garments in his new collection on the blockchain with IOTA and EVRYTHNG.
Adding a blockchain layer to Avery Dennison’s Janela smart products platform – already used to enable apparel items to be #BornDigital – provides additional assurances to brands and consumers as to the accuracy and immutability of information stored about garments and their origins. This is critical particularly for high end or limited edition products that may be susceptible to counterfeiting. But sustainability conscious buyers of all apparel products can be reassured that “Made in the USA” means just that, or that materials have been ethically sourced, for example.
Unlike the price of Bitcoin, blockchain’s value to brands will continue to rise as consumers demand accurate, trustworthy information about the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and the products we consume.