This case study highlights the challenges of implementing blockchain technology in the food supply chain and the opportunities for deploying blockchain solutions throughout the global food ecosystem to increase safety and reduce waste.
Traceability is essential in preventing or responding quickly to food contamination, disease, drug or pesticide residues, or attempted bioterrorism (IAEA, 2011). According to McDermott (2017), “Blockchain is not solving a technical problem, it is solving a social problem.”
With prevention, preparedness, and proof, Walmart’s blockchain pilot serves a larger purpose and has a positive effect on the Walmart brand. Walmart’s blockchain solution needed to be “business driven and technology enabled,” the capacity to solve such business problems as time efficiencies, cost reduction, long term good will, and revenue generation (Burkitt, 2014). Ensuring value for all participants in the ecosystem will be critical to wider adoption; breeders/farms, processing plants, cold storage facilities, distribution centers, and retail stores need to have a strong value proposition to join.
To maintain whole chain traceability, this kind of initiative requires leadership to coordinate stakeholders and promote awareness of different technology solutions. “This is not about competition, this is about collaboration,” according to Yiannas (2017). “It’s about creating a solution that offers shared value for stakeholders.” Throughout the product life cycle, supply chain participants were able to record, crosscheck, and ensure a product’s authenticity and trace its movement and quality (Doyle, 2014). This information gave all participants greater control over their brands and businesses and supported deeper learning capacities from enhanced gathering of data and analytics. Such a supply chain network could eventually include research and development centers, primary production facilities, aggregation and mobilization providers, trading and grading participants, wholesalers, retailers, and customers (Matta, 2013).
Blockchain technology enables food traceability to the item level, not just batch level, so that participants can trace each item in the supply chain (Wuest, 2015). Walmart’s blockchain pilot identified which data were relevant to capture and compiled a list of mandatory attributes (lot number, pack date, quantity shipped, unit of measure, purchase order number, shipment identifiers) and a list of optional attributes (carton serial numbers, pallet number, harvest date, buyer identifier, vendor/supplier identifier). Consistency is key. Pilot leaders should adopt data structures that align with standards and develop requirements for master data and guidelines for data retention (Can - Trace Secretariat, 2004). This supply chain portrait accounts for inter-operability among ledger participants with an indepth grasp of data. Walmart chose IBM’s blockchain solution because it was “not recreating supply chain, but leveraging existing technologies to enhance supply chain traceability using Hyperledger” (Burkitt, 2014).
Like Walmart’s blockchain pilot, “traceability systems that are integrated with existing company business practices are more likely to be maintained and more likely to be accurate than stand alone traceability systems” (Can-Trace Secretariat, 2004).
“Visibility, optimization, and demand” are key challenges in creating inter-operable devices and platforms (Gantait, 2017).
Walmart will continue to experiment, scale, and learn from its blockchain pilots as it builds coalitions within the supply chain ecosystem where members are seeking to implement blockchain applications more broadly. Blockchain is bigger and broader than these pork and mango pilots. However, for Walmart, block chain technology was deployed specifically to solve societal issues of broken food chains. Leveraging existing devices and sensors, Walmart’s blockchain pilots identify systemic vulnerabilities in the food supply chain and go beyond technology and business to regain people’s trust and confidence in food.
Blockchain has demonstrated its potential for providing greater transparency, veracity, and trust in food information so that supply chain members can act immediately, should problems arise.
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