Food is undeniably one of the industries where full transparency is very important. The popularity of organics, fair trade and a range of other qualifying factors for food products has risen drastically over the last few years, and the dependability of these qualifications cannot always be assured. Walmart, in conjunction with IBM Blockchain, sought to solve the problem of their high-friction food supply chain and fraudulent food accreditation in one go.
As touched on in our previous blog, a blockchain network’s distributed ledger provides a fully auditable, traceable method of recording transactions along the supply chain. Unreliable food safety, and the huge number of customers in China demanding better standards, provided the perfect environment to test such a solution. Walmart, and its suppliers, can use a blockchain network to track each piece of fruit as it travels from farm, through processing and across borders, all the way to the final stores and point of sale. As such, Walmart’s Chinese customers can depend on a reliable, safe supply of fruit.
Every time a piece of fruit moves along its supply chain, relevant documentation can be added by each party. For example, a mango will stop off at a production facility where it is washed, peeled, sliced and then packaged for sale. When it gets to the facility, the records associated with it (which can be pictures, customs documents, farm accreditations etc) can be checked to make sure that the mango that arrived is the correct one. When the mango leaves the facility, documents about food safety standards, batch numbers and other relevant data can be added by that company to the mango’s blockchain record.
The beauty of this system is that no piece of data can be added or removed from the network without agreement from all the relevant parties, and can never be done in a malicious way. There is a consistent history of all the data records which are added, leaving a fully auditable, transparent ledger which all stakeholders can view. The mango, as it proceeds towards the customer, can be checked at each stage to prevent fraud and protect consumer safety. This is especially pertinent with regards to food but can be applied across any supply chain. For example, think of construction sites where the quality of materials needs to be up to standard. It is likely a very complex task to trace a piece of wood or sheet of steel back to its source, but this does not have to be the case with blockchain.
Not only this, but the current norm of ‘siloed’ data, whereby each company in a supply chain has an individual record of information, often means that data is incompatible across trading partners and easy to manipulate. Walmart and IBM’s customised blockchain means that no single party can control the flow of information, and each stakeholder has access to the data regardless of their internal systems.
Beyond consistency and consensus, the final benefit of Walmart’s blockchain network is the speed with which information can be stored and, when needed, checked. Chasing up where a specific piece of fruit originated could be a week-long process currently, if possible at all, but with a blockchain network the records associated with a mango could be checked within minutes. This can save a huge amount of time and money over dispute resolution and data reconciliation. If a supplier was fraudulently qualifying themselves as carbon-zero, or fair trade, this could create problems for Walmart itself. With IBM’s blockchain solution, Walmart can now quickly track each mango’s progress around the globe to stores.