Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Blockchain for Produce: Moving into Production

If you are in the Produce Industry, you have been hearing a lot about blockchain in the last year. Blockchain is the hot topic for industry publications, trade association meetings, and education sessions at conferences. When the largest retailer in the world stated they were moving to blockchain, the industry took notice.
Blockchain graphic

In September of 2018, Walmart sent leafy green suppliers a letter informing them of the Walmart Food Traceability Initiative. This initiative stated that direct suppliers needed to send Walmart “one-step back” information via the blockchain by January 31st, 2019. It further stated that leafy green suppliers are to provide complete end-to-end traceability back to the farm by September 2019. At this point, Walmart has not set the requirement of blockchain traceability information for other commodities, but it is fair to assume they are coming.

So, what exactly is the blockchain? One of the best descriptions I have heard goes like this: think of the supply chain as being made of blocks. Each participant in the supply chain is represented by a block. If I am the grower shipper, I capture who the grower was, which lot was harvested, and on what date. When I pack the product, I add additional information of the pack date, lot number, and specific brand and pack style (GTIN) information. When I ship the product, I include the receiver’s order information and write all this information to my block through the blockchain platform provider. This data cannot be erased or changed. If I made a mistake, I write additional information to my block.

The receiver of my shipment will record their receipt of my product. If the receiver is a distributor (or re-packer), they capture my source information, which becomes an input to the product they will ship, and they write the details of the order to their block and what was shipped to their block in the chain. Now as Walmart receives the product at their distribution center for shipments to individual stores, the PTI case labels are used to track what was shipped to which store and that is recorded in the blockchain.

With each block in the supply chain writing its information to the chain, the ability to track any given lot from its source to the store takes a matter of seconds instead of days. In the event of a serious foodborne illness, suspected lots and where they are in the supply chain information can be identified quickly and removed from commerce. This ability to quickly identify and act could save lives and prevent illnesses. This level of responsiveness should also eliminate the need for commodity-wide recalls like we saw with Romaine Lettuce in 2018. These commodity-wide recalls are a high cost to all growers of that product, erode customer confidence and often have a lasting effect on the consumption volume of that commodity.

About the author Todd Baggett:

Our founder and CEO, Todd Baggett, is on the PMA Blockchain Committee and is the Co-Chair of the PTI Technology Working Group. He is actively working to help our industry with this transition.

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