As consumers we want more transparency and choice. But there is often little information available to us as to provenance of the products we purchase. Even when we are given assurances as to the ethical or sustainable sourcing of a product, can we really trust them?
As reported in City AM, Carrefour has joined Nestle, Unilever and others as a founder member of the IBM Food Trust Ecosystem - seeking to develop a new blockchain based solution that will enable all parties involved in the supply chain to guarantee product traceability and quality.
From a consumer perspective it is great that mainstream retailers are experimenting with blockchain solutions as a means of recording the provenance of the products they sell. Being able to guarantee product traceability and quality should translate into greater differentiation of products and improved consumer choice.
If (hopefully when!) successful and put into commercial operation the solution should enable consumers to be presented with a real choice; we will be able to judge for ourselves how fairly or sustainably sourced the product we are choosing to buy is. Brands like Tony's Chocolonely (https://tonyschocolonely.com/gb/en) will have an opportunity to really stand out from the crowd because their competitors may not be able to demonstrate their supply chains are exploitation-free to the same extent. In time, it is to be hoped this new wave of trusted provenance and consumer empowerment will start to drive better production, sourcing, manufacturing and distribution behaviours (albeit at a potentially higher price point for the consumer, at least initially).
But there are challenges to be faced: how do you accurately, permanently and securely identify, tag and monitor constituent parts, produce and perishables? Who validates the tagging process for the constituent parts through their lifecycle, ownership and location changes through to the end product and owner/seller? How can we trust the authenticity and accuracy of the data entered onto the blockchain at each stage which is then reported to us as prospective buyers?
As tagging technology and trusted certification schemes develop and mature these challenges should diminish over time. Let's hope the trial is a roaring success.
Carrefour is planning to gradually deploy a blockchain ledger across its fresh product lines over the next several years, in a bid to bolster the security of its global supply chains. The French retailer is employing IBM, a US tech firm, in one of the first examples of blockchain’s large-scale usage by a major international company, joining the likes of Nestle and Unilever in adopting the technology. Blockchain, best known as the technology underpinning cryptocurrency bitcoin, comprises a growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked using cryptography. Using the technology, Carrefour hopes to be able to track its produce from supply, processing, packaging all the way to distribution.