Australia’s largest independent grocery retailer has partnered with the country’s biggest family-owned meat processing firm to trace beef steaks back to their farm of origin using blockchain technology.
South Australia based Thomas Foods International and Drakes Supermarket, which operates 50 stores across SA and Queensland, today announced the results of a three month pilot of IBM’s Food Trust solution.
IBM said the pilot had enabled the companies to “trace the entire lifecycle of a food product, from region to plate, and update the record in real-time”.
The pilot involved tracing the origin of a piece of steak back to one of four individual farms.
Using the IBM Food Trust blockchain solution, which built on Hyperledger Fabric, Thomas Foods and Drakes were able to upload data into a shared platform and map the life-cycle of the products being traced across the organisations, allowing the steaks to be tracked as they moved through the supply chain.
“By maintaining the individual data relating to each product instead of moving to data about grouped products, we are achieving a greater understanding of how each food item is moving through the supply chain. This added level of transparency and verifiability will reinforce customers’ and consumers’ confidence in the provenance of our product and is made possible by blockchain technology,” said Thomas Foods’ Simon Tamke.
“We are pleased with the steady progress of our blockchain collaboration with IBM, while we continue to receive very positive feedback from the industry and customers,” he added.
There are a number of advantages to a ‘shared view’ of information for food supply chain players. In the event of a recall, for example, customers can quickly identify the amount of product at risk with minimised false positives. Retailers can also prove the provenance and history of an individual cut of meat, as an added service to customers.
“The greater level of granularity since adopting IBM Food Trust has enabled the traceability of a food package across the supply chain, reducing the time required to identify the origin of a product from days to just seconds,” said Drakes’ general manager, fresh foods Tim Cartwright.
IBM says its Food Trust solution is “one of the largest and most active enterprise blockchain networks globally in production to date”. It was launched late last year after 18 months of testing, and is being used by a number of firms globally like French retail giant Carrefourand suppliers BeefChain, Smithfield and Dennick Fruit Source.
The blockchain platform is available from IBM’s Melbourne data centre, and is expected to be available from its Sydney data centre soon.
Food supply chain players become members of a blockchain as a subscription service, and contribute data to the network at no cost.
“We see blockchain as a potentially game-changing technology for food traceability. Drakes and Thomas Foods have demonstrated how different players in a single supply chain can securely share data and key events, bridging organisational boundaries for the good of both consumers and the benefit of their own business processes,” said Rupert Colchester, head of blockchain at IBM Australia and New Zealand.
“We expect to see more of this collaboration in the coming year, with groups of partners working together for the benefit of the entire food industry,” he added.
Taste for blockchain
Food supply chains are considered ripe for disruption by blockchain technologies.
Last year, Commonwealth Bank of Australia and five major supply chain players traded and tracked seventeen tonnes of almonds as part of a blockchain-based experiment.
Similar solutions – like Oracle’s Intelligent Track and Trace – are being used to track key steps in the supply chain from Italian olive groves to the Bellucci-brand bottled extra virgin olive oil sold in North America.
One of the toughest challenges in establishing supply chain blockchain networks is the requirement to get multiple stakeholders behind a single solution.
A September report from Gartner said that a lack of data and governance standards across broad ecosystems of trading partners “will inhibit multi-enterprise collaboration, therefore stalling pilots and diminishing wide adoption”.
Gartner research into supply-chain-focused blockchain solutions has found the market to be “uncertain, confusing andoverly hyped”, while many proposed use cases “may not even need blockchain in the first place”.