CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
Technology
October 23, 2018
Forward Thinking

IBM extends blockchain platform for food supply chain

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Firm's Food Trust platform to provide product traceability for Carrefour and other subscribers.
Infographic: How Blockchain Could Mend Our Fractured Global Food Supply
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IBM says its Food Trust platform will improve traceability, transparency, and efficiency in the food supply chain.

IBM Corp. is doubling down on its support of blockchain data sharing technology for the food supply chain, announcing today that its new IBM Food Trust platform could improve traceability, transparency, and efficiency for the global retailer Carrefour and other participating retailers, suppliers, growers, and food industry providers.

IBM Food Trust is a cloud-based network that uses blockchain's "distributed ledger" approach to allow subscribing retailers and suppliers to safely share data across the food ecosystem, according to the Armonk, N.Y.-based computer giant.

The launch follows IBM's 2017 initiative in applying blockchain to food safety, when the company announced a collaboration with the food supply chain companies Nestlé, Unilever, and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., as well as Dole Foods, Driscoll's, Golden State Foods, Kroger Co., McCormick and Co., McLane Co., and Tyson Foods Inc.

IBM has also launched a "blockchain accelerator" program designed to help enterprises adopt the secure data-sharing technology faster, and a "TradeLens" joint venture with Maersk Line that has signed on 94 logistics organizations to promote more efficient and secure global trade.

The newest platform kicks off with Carrefour, a chain of more than 12,000 stores in 33 countries that will use the solution in an effort to improve consumers' confidence in a number of Carrefour-branded products, and expand it to all Carrefour brands worldwide by 2022. Additional organizations joining IBM Food Trust include: Topco Associates LLC, a cooperative representing 49 members and over 15,000 stores; Wakefern, a retailer-owned cooperative representing 50 member companies and 349 stores; and the suppliers BeefChain, Dennick Fruit Source, Scoular, and Smithfield.

By using blockchain for trusted transactions, the members can quickly trace food back to its source in as little as a few seconds instead of days or weeks, according to IBM. Unlike traditional databases, blockchain enables network members to gain a new level of trusted information by requiring participants to gain permission to change any data, the company said. The system requires all transactions to be endorsed by multiple parties, leading to an immutable, single version of the truth, IBM said.

"The currency of trust today is transparency and achieving it in the area of food safety happens when responsibility is shared," Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice president, IBM Global Industries, Clients, Platforms and Blockchain, said in a release. "That collaborative approach is how the members of IBM Food Trust have shown blockchain can strengthen transparency and drive meaningful enhancements to food traceability. Ultimately that provides business benefits for participants and a better and safer product for consumers."

To use the IBM Food Trust platform, participants select from three software-as-a-service (SaaS) modules with pricing that is scaled for small, medium, or global enterprises, beginning at $100 per month. Suppliers can contribute data to the network at no cost, and then gain benefits according to the modules they subscribe to. Options include: a trace module for tracking products to mitigate cross-contamination and reduce the spread of food-borne illness and unnecessary waste, a certifications module for verifying the provenance of digitized certificates such as organic or fair trade, and a data entry and access module, for securely uploading, accessing, and managing data on the blockchain.

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