Is it possible to trace an individual turkey from farm to table? Last year, US agricultural conglomerate Cargill Inc. did exactly that using blockchain technology. So how does blockchain fit into the future of food traceability?
In a campaign perfectly timed for Thanksgiving, the company allowed shoppers to type in the code from their store-bought turkey and trace it to the family farm where it was raised.
This campaign was about more than just good PR. It achieved everything that food traceability of the future should. It gave consumers access to detailed information about their turkey – what it ate, how long it was at the farm, where it was processed, and even photos of the farm. And in doing so, it built consumer trust.
Cargill’s traceable turkey campaign is not an isolated event; it is representative of what’s happening in the food industry right now. Other major companies around the world, such as Walmart, Fonterra, IBM, Carrefour and Nestle, are also putting the spotlight on food traceability, and are exploring how to achieve greater transparency. (You may find this article on how blockchain can improve food traceability interesting.)
So, what’s fuelling this revolution?
Here are three trends driving the future of traceability:
Trend #1: Consumer trust
Studies revealed 73% of consumers feel positively about companies that are transparent about where and how their products are made, grown or raised. The fact is that consumers no longer passively consume foods based on availability, price or attractive packaging alone. They are increasingly aware of what they eat and they want to make the right choices about their food, as they know the impact this has on the world around them.
This change is putting increasing pressure on the food industry to show consumers exactly where their food is coming from. Companies are realising that transparency is the key to building consumer trust — and keeping it; even in the midst of food scares (such as listeria in rock melons) and food fraud.
Trend #2: More collaboration
Cargill Inc. didn’t achieve traceable turkeys by itself; the company partnered with Honeysuckle White brand turkeys and farmers. After all, traceability is a process where supply chain partners need to collaborate to get results. From the farm to the food processor to the distributor to the retailers and regulators, everyone needs to work together to share the right information.
The future of food traceability also relies on collaboration beyond the food industry – something that many proactive companies already realise. Technology giant IBM recently partnered with Nestle and Walmart specifically to improve the way food is tracked, transported and sold to consumers in China. And in its food fraud crackdown, eCommerce company Alibaba has struck up partnerships with Fonterra and New Zealand Post, and Blackmores and Australia Post.
Trend #3: Blockchain technology
The technology at the centre of this traceability revolution is blockchain. Blockchain technology was originally developed to publicly track the transfer of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Now, it is being used to authenticate, verify, permanently record and provide ongoing reporting around the transfer of ownership and provenance of items.
Blockchain takes food traceability to a whole new level. Above all, incorporating blockchain technology into the food supply chain helps to overcome one of the biggest challenges facing today’s food manufacturers: fraud. Food fraud costs the global food industry an estimated US$40 billion each year. (See how winemakers are beating fraud.) With blockchain technology, food & beverage companies can give 100% assurance to consumers and retailers on the authenticity of their product.
The first-ever traceable turkeys reveal what could be on the cards for food traceability in the not-so-distant future. Whether the answer lies in blockchain or another technology, the most important thing is that food traceability is getting the shakeup it needs.
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