Albertsons Companies, the second-largest grocer in the U.S., has announced that it is joining the IBM Food Trust network that runs on a blockchain framework, in an attempt to increase transparency and visibility into its supply chain. The IBM Food Trust network is a consortium that comprises more than 50 food brands from across the world. Their common interest is to trace food production from farm to the storefronts.
Ever since blockchain burst into mainstream relevance, IBM has shown a sustained interest in incorporating the technology into its services. It has partnered with a number of its clients to deliver blockchain applications spread across various verticals including retail, finance, supply chain and healthcare. The company is also a member of the Hyperledger platform – an open source, cross-industry collaboration to push the boundaries of blockchain technology and its use cases.
With the Food Trust network, IBM and its partners seek to substantiate the applicability of blockchain in food track-and-trace, with an ultimate goal of bringing about a safer and more transparent food supply chain. Albertsons Companies, which has 2,300 stores across the U.S., could gain a great deal from blockchain's success; it would help reduce contamination-related recalls and generally help improve product quality.
The pilot run for the blockchain solution on IBM Food Trust is to trace bulk romaine lettuce from one of Albertsons distribution centers, which if successful, would be expanded to other food categories across its distribution network.
Choosing romaine lettuce is understandable. The food product was the center of a major recall last year, with contaminated romaine lettuce carrying the dreaded E.coli bacteria ending up sickening hundreds of people over the course of two months. Apart from the obvious health hazards, contamination is also a significant business risk, because grocery retailers are forced to recall several hundred tons of food products because of the potential pathogen outbreak.
"Blockchain technology has the potential to be transformational for us as we further build differentiation on our fresh brand," said Anuj Dhanda, chief information officer at Albertsons Companies. "Food safety is a very significant step; blockchain traces the provenance of products. The ability to track every move of a food product – from the farm to the shopping cart – will be very empowering for our customers."
One key advantage of a blockchain system is the data sharing among key stakeholders, which can help glean insights for the supply chain at-large. However, commercial adoption of blockchain is not widespread due to many companies wariness of data-sharing. Several companies have expressed skepticism about sharing data – albeit to a secure and decentralized ledger – because they fear it might lead to a loss of their competitive edge in the market.
The future of blockchain is tied to data, and it is consortiums like the Food Trust network that can help expedite the change in perspective. Network members are recommending or mandating that their supply chain partners join the network, which in essence would create complete visibility into the end-to-end food chain operations.
"Since first introducing IBM Food Trust, we have met a number of milestones that show the path toward transforming the end-to-end food system," said Raj Rao, General Manager of the IBM Food Trust. "Today, we are further scaling the network to bring blockchain-based traceability to an even wider cross-section of retailers, suppliers and end consumers. By working with the top retailers all over the world, IBM Food Trust is truly helping to provide a safer and more transparent food system for all."
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