Wal-Mart Stores, Kroger Co. and a host of food suppliers on Tuesday said they would collaborate on a blockchain initiative with IBM designed to strengthen safety in the food chain.
Blockchain, a technology providing a digital record of transactions in “blocks” that cannot be altered, provides a faster and more accurate alternative to paper records and manual inspection systems commonly used in the food supply chain. Utilizing a blockchain network, retailers and suppliers can trace foodborne illnesses to their source in seconds — a process that could take weeks using traditional record keeping.
Every year, 1 in 10 people fall ill and 400,000 die due to contaminated food, the companies said. Many of the critical issues impacting food safety such as cross-contamination, the spread of foodborne illness, unnecessary waste and the economic burden of recalls are magnified by the lack of access to information and traceability.
In addition to Walmart and Kroger, the consortium includes Driscoll’s, Dole, Golden State Foods, McCormick and Co., McLane Co., Nestlé, Tyson Foods and Unilever. These companies will work with IBM to identify new areas where the global supply chain can benefit from blockchain.
“Unlike any technology before it, blockchain is transforming the way like-minded organizations come together and enabling a new level of trust based on a single view of the truth,” Marie Wieck, general manager, IBM Blockchain, said in a statement. “Our work with organizations across the food ecosystem, as well as IBM’s new platform, will further unleash the vast potential of this exciting technology, making it faster for organizations of all sizes and in all industries to move from concept to production to improve the way business gets done.”
In addition to food safety, IBM is advancing other blockchain supply chain initiatives using the platform for automated billing and invoicing system. Initial work to use blockchain for invoicing is underway starting with Lenovo. This will provide an audit-ready solution with full traceability of billing and operational data, and help speed on-boarding time for new vendors and new contract requirements.
Officials of Walmart and IBM presented results of a test of the blockchain food safety initiative earlier this year, demonstrating how it could trace the journey of foods from the farm to the retail shelf in seconds.
The trials also demonstrated that stakeholders throughout the global food supply chain view food safety as a collaborative issue, rather than a competitive one, and are willing to work together to improve the food system for everyone.
“Safety is a key value for Kroger, and our partnership with IBM positions us to explore and test blockchain technology as a solution for enhanced food safety across our business," Howard Popoola, Kroger's VP of corporate food technology and regulatory compliance. "Food safety is a universal priority for food retailers and companies. It's not a competitive advantage; it benefits our customers to have greater transparency and traceability in the supply chain."