Blockchain in the Food and Drink Sector: A viable supply chain solution?
Blockchain is one of the tech industry’s current favourite buzzwords. Once the preserve of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum), blockchain has now shed its strict association with fin tech and is being promoted as a viable solution for a range of other applications. We now ask, can blockchain solve some of the problems in food supply chains?
Applying blockchain to food supply
At a very basic level, blockchain is a means of storing data. A blockchain utilises distributed ledger technology (‘DLT’) to record the transfer of data between users within a peer-to-peer network (so, no need for a third party “intermediary” to keep the records). Each blockchain will be subject to the rules stipulated by its developer. For example, the ledger of data may be private and subject to restrictions on who can access and edit it. Every member of the network keeps a copy of the data ledger. No single copy of it is seen as more or less definitive than any other (this is known as ‘immutability’), and the data can only be changed with the agreement of the majority.
What does this mean for food supply chains? Each member of a given supply chain could be a participant in a blockchain network through which they could share important information about the products within that supply chain. Taking the example of a crate of fruit, the information recorded could demonstrate where that fruit was grown and the precise date and time at which it passes from each member of the chain.
Problem solving and pitfalls
The accuracy and immutability of blockchain should allow suppliers, and therefore retailers, to more easily audit and more confidently guarantee their supply chain, for purposes such as regulatory compliance, as well as demonstrating freshness or even their commitment to sustainability, ethical farming and environmental protection.
The maintenance of accurate and immutable data sets allows each party to be certain who was in control of a product at any given time. This enables quicker resolution of investigations into reported issues (for example where produce falls below expected standards) and the swift apportionment of liability between the offending parties.
However, blockchain’s past association with the dark web, crime and money laundering activities, may be enough to put off investors and other vital stakeholders.
There is also the issue of cost: at its heart blockchain is a software solution, and software development can require significant investment (of both financial resources and management time). Little wonder then that tech giants like IBM are leading blockchain’s charge into the food and drink industry.
A viable solution?
The key advantages of blockchain technology – immutability, accuracy and data sharing – make it ideal for solving some of a food supply chain’s biggest challenges. However blockchain continues to be a poorly understood concept. It remains to be seen whether cost and public perception will ultimately prevent blockchain from being adopted within food supply chains on a more widespread basis.
For more information, contact Dan Badham on dan.badham @crippspg.co.uk or visit www.cripps.co.uk.