In November 2008, a paper signed by a certain Satoshi Nakamoto was posted on the internet, leading to the creation of the bitcoin blockchain. Fast forward nine years, and blockchain technologies are on the verge of revolutionizing countless businesses, from banking to insurance, including the way we track and secure the food chain.
What’s a Blockchain?
In essence, a blockchain is a digital version of a ledger that is at the heart of systems like Bitcoin or Ethereum. However, unlike your traditional bookkeeping ledger, a blockchain exposes some rather unique properties: It is distributed, meaning that every single transaction is stored on many computers. It is also secure and can be trusted, as every transaction is verified by many participants using cryptography and only validated once there is a consensus. Finally, it is immutable: the data that is stored in a blockchain will be stored by many participants, unchanged, for as long as the blockchain exists.
Blockchain + Food and Drinks
That’s all good, but how could blockchains play a role in the food and drinks industry? Well, they could help resolve a number of issues and inefficiencies in the supply chain, such as accurate product provenance, efficient product recalls and data-backed product authenticity. In product provenance, a blockchain can help resolve the loss of trust in organic, fair trade and GMO-free products by offering a neutral, tamperproof place where provenance information can be stored. With such a solution, consumers would be able to retrieve provenance information with the peace of mind that it is valid and wasn’t fiddled with. This and other use cases were illustrated by EVRYTHNG’s Bitcoin blockchain integration.
Similarly, product recalls can be made more efficient by tracking the movement of individual items via a blockchain, as illustrated by Walmart in its early trial on two products. Product authenticity and product loss could also be improved by creating a neutral, distributed and decentralized place where all partners could store products transactions. Several trials of this concept are being launched, including Microsoft’s Project Manifest.
Finally, the supply chain data of food and drinks could also be combined with emerging IoT technologies such as printed electronics or low-power networks, allowing to store transactions about a product, as well as its current state, such as its temperature or whether it has already been opened. Thanks to the properties of blockchain technologies, this information could be authenticated and trusted. This is especially interesting when thinking about regulatory compliance.
Beware of the Blockchain Hype
So, if blockchains are so good, why isn’t everyone busy implementing these solutions? Well, because these technologies are in their infancy and hence suffer from immaturity and inefficiency, making their full adoption risky. Moreover, many of the use cases we talked about can actually be implemented without a blockchain. A number of IoT companies out there such as EVRYTHNG readily help companies implement open product provenance, efficient product recalls and product authenticity without blockchains. These use cases are actually more about item level tagging, digitalization of the supply chain, open data and IoT than purely about blockchains. However, the unique properties of blockchains have to power to take these use cases to the next level by improving trust, decentralization and openness.
Parts of this piece were originally published by The Grocer.