Nestlé and French supermarket chain Carrefour have joined forces to put mashed potato on the blockchain. Specifically, they are joining IBM’s Food Trust initiative to track the Musline purée product as it moves through the supply chain – and have worked in updates to the packaging that allow consumers to view the food’s source.
IBM describes the Food Trust as “the only network of its kind to connect growers, processors, distributors, and retailers through a permissioned, permanent and shared record of food system data.” It tracks produce via a Hyperledger Fabric-based infrastructure into which contributors can upload data as an XML message in a unique format, derived from GS1 standards used in the food industry.
Carrefour and Nestlé have also redesigned the packing on Musline purée, an instant mashed potato product, so that it now includes a QR code: “Each consumer will be able to use a secure platform on their smartphone to access information on the production supply chain, including the varieties of potato used, the dates and places of manufacture, information on quality control, and places and dates of storage before the product reaches the shelves,” Carrefour said.
Carrefour is one of the country’s largest supermarket chains. It also has a significant international presence, operating over 12,000 stores in more than 30 countries. It joins US-based Walmart as a Food Trust member.
The blockchain technology used in creating IBM’s Food Trust is not reliant on cryptocurrency to act as a token to reward mining. Instead the system is built on the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Fabric which is the first blockchain system that runs distributed applications written in standard, general-purpose programming languages, (e.g., Go, Java, Node.js), without a systemic dependency on a native cryptocurrency.
The IBM Food Trust APIs enable authenticated (and authorised) end users, including system users and applications, to upload data to the IBM Food Trust solution network.
To successfully upload GS1 Asset XML and Certificate JSON to the IBM Food Trust solution, authenticated users must submit their credentials with each API call. Once the submitted data is validated and transformed by the solution, the assets and certificates are created on the network and available for transactions with other authorised users.
The decision by the food producer and distributor to put just a single product on the chain shows how nascent the project is; IBM has been consistent in its push to establish blockchain-based initiatives across a range of sectors, but buy-in remains modest: pricing may be off-putting for some: IBM charges £3,357.00 per month for large businesses; £480 per month for medium-sized businesses (£50m+ revenues.)
(The 2019 Stack Overflow survey of developers, which drew 48,175 responses, found that 80 percent of respondents’ companies were not using blockchain “at all”, despite 29.2 percent believing the technology could yet prove “useful across many domains”…)
Participants entering into the IBM Food Trust can select from three software-as-a-service modules that have a pricing structure that is scaled to suit their size.
The traceability module means the food supply chains can be transparently followed at all stages, helping to reduce food waste and enable suppliers to manage demand, as well as mitigate cross-contamination of products. The certifications module helps verify the provenance of digitised certificates, such as organic or fair trade. While the last module allows users to securely upload and manage their data on the blockchain.
Suppliers can contribute data to the network at no cost.