In the wake of recalls and food contamination revelations from supermarkets including Whole Foods, Walmart, and Trader Joe’s (and that was just in 2018), consumers have developed a new appetite for insight into global food supply chains. Likewise, food producers and agriculturists are looking to decrease their risk and liability through life cycle tracking to prevent food safety and fraud issues before a product ever makes it to a grocery store. This has spawned a new generation of IoT and blockchain-based food supply chain tracking products and services.
To gain a robust understanding of adoption, technologies on the market, and integration strategies, NewtonX surveyed 200 executives in the agricultural industry who have adopted IoT or Blockchain solutions for supply chain tracking. The data and insights from this survey informed the conclusions drawn in this article.
Smart Cream Sensors and Chicken Ankle Monitors: How Blockchain and IoT Are Revolutionizing Food Tracking
New technologies have emerged to address various steps in the food supply chain, from transportation, to the quality of life of livestock. For instance, GoGo Chicken, a poultry monitoring system developed by a Chinese insurer uploads real-time chicken movements onto a blockchain ledger. The system monitors the chickens’ environments and evaluates the birds’ health, with the intent of lowering risk and liability for poultry farmers. The company also has a consumer angle: customers get access to a wealth of data about the chickens they are eating from an app, which helps them ensure safety as well as ethical treatment of the chicken before its demise.
Chicken tracking isn’t the only use for blockchain in the food supply chain. As we’ve previously written, Walmart started working with IBM in 2016 to implement blockchain for supply chain tracking, and has reported that the technology helped the reduce the time it takes to track mango shipments from 7 days to 2.2 seconds. The company now requires many of its food suppliers to work with IBM for blockchain tracking. In 2017, Nestle and Kroger joined Walmart in partnering with IBM to use blockchain for supply chain tracking to improve food safety. In 2018, IBM unveiled its Food Trust blockchain, a supply chain ledger to connect food growers, processors, distributors and retailers.
In tandem with blockchain tracking, many companies have also invested in smart sensors to optimize food safety and delivery. For instance, Driscoll, the world’s largest berry distributor, uses chips and sensors to track “shock events” (vibrations in transit) that can reduce the shelf life of berries. When the devices sense vibration in a trailer, they notify the shipper so that they can rectify the issue. Similarly, Fourkites, a freight-tracking software startup, offers a temperature tracker for shipping containers that allows companies to track and certify temperatures so that they can prevent and react to food-safety incidents.
Other startups are using IoT and blockchain to signal inventory status, register products, optimize delivery for food freshness, and even optimize livestock relations and health (more on that here).
The Future of Food: Trackable and Fully Optimized
Consumers today expect robust data on any product they buy. Whether it’s the fabric used to make their clothing, or the additives put in soft drinks, the end food buyer wants data on the life cycle and safety of the products they buy. This consumer trend, combined with the food industry need for tracking and monitoring food for shelf life and safety, is already providing a massive opportunity for leveraging today’s technology in the food supply chain.
Indeed, as IBM picked up on, supply chain tracking is one of the most applicable use cases for blockchain technology and distributed ledgers. Similarly, unlike consumer IoT which has faced barriers to adoption, supply chain IoT has already been implemented by the largest food distributors in the world.
In the not-too-distant future, it’s easy to imagine being able to scan a QR code for data on a pineapple’s journey to your supermarket. With greater visibility, grocers could also implement new price structures for food based on a single product’s life cycle journey. The transparency that blockchain and IoT give to the global food supply chain will benefit growers, distributors, and consumers alike.