In an oversaturated market, it seems one of the only ways left for supermarkets to differentiate themselves in the grocery wars is to give the public the supply chain transparency they’ve been demanding since the start of the organic movement. And what better way to do that than with blockchain?
That, at least, is the approach French grocer Carrefour is taking as it expands blockchain food traceability to eight new product types: Eggs, cheese, milk, oranges, tomatoes, salmon and ground beef steak. According to the company, the system guarantees complete product traceability by requiring every party along the supply chain — producers, processors and distributors — to track their activity.
“’Become the leader of the food transition for everyone’ is the aim that Alexandre Bompard has set for the Carrefour group,” said Laurent Vallée, Carrefour’s general secretary and head of quality and food safety. “Making use of blockchain technology is an exemplary step in meeting this aim. This is a first in Europe and will provide consumers with guaranteed complete transparency as far as the traceability of our products is concerned.”
Blockchain is most commonly known as the basis for cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and Ethereum. However, there’s no reason the concept must be restricted to this narrow category; indeed, many proponents believe currency is only its most basic application.
All “blockchain” means is that information is stored on a distributed ledger shared among participants rather than in a centralized database. That makes it hard for anyone to fake a “block,” since everyone else in the system is holding a copy of that information block and can see the truth for themselves.
While Carrefour is among the first to take this approach in Europe, other grocers have seen the potential for blockchain technology in this capacity. For example, JD.com — a Chinese online marketplace similar to Amazon — is using it to monitor the quality of its high-end beef imports to help prevent foodborne illnesses — or, if they happen, to trace them back to the source.
Stateside, Walmart and IBM are working together to trace pork shipments back to China and fresh mangoes back to their domestic sources in the U.S. The success of this initial program has led IBM and Walmart to expand their partnership. Kroger and Wegmans have now also teamed up with the tech provider, and individual suppliers are taking the initiative to do the same, including Dole, Driscoll’s, Golden State Foods, McCormick & Co., Nestlé, Tyson Foods and Unilever.
Carrefour was already using blockchain to demonstrate the quality of its free-range Carrefour Quality Line Auvergne chickens. Data points, such as date of birth and date of hatchery departure, mark the beginning of the product’s journey. Then, producers detail factors such as raising the chickens without antibiotics, on GMO-free diets and out in the open.
Finally, the processor notes the locations of slaughter, packaging and labeling before marking a use-by date and sending it along to the store, where consumers can review the entire blockchain by scanning a QR code on the packaging.
According to Carrefour, tracking a product’s journey in this manner isn’t just about meeting consumers’ appetite for transparency; it also contributes to higher levels of food safety, ensuring not only that regulations are met, but also that customers develop a sense of trust for the Carrefour brand.
Indeed, that seems to be the case across the board. Whether its meat from China, produce grown within the U.S. or any other perishable item, grocers are now taking more responsibility for the quality of their goods, with a plan in place to address any issues before they arise.