Blockchain – The food industry’s saving grace or just over speculation?

Data chain, block chain

Over the last 18 months, the hype around Blockchain technology has reached fever pitch. Most people will have seen the recent extensive coverage around the huge price inflation of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, which has soared from $900 to $20,000 per Bitcoin in the last 12 months. For financial systems, Blockchain opens up new opportunities to reinvent the way that this sector operates in the internet era.

Blockchain has also been extensively featured in food articles with high profile retailers and suppliers communicating how they are adopting the technology into their businesses. Over the years, and as numerous food scandals like ‘horsegate’ have been uncovered, consumers are becoming far more discerning about where their food comes from. With this as a backdrop, Blockchain has been hailed as the potential solution to food traceability requirements, but is it ready to be deployed with any affect?

Within the food supply chain there are many participants, from raw material producers (grower) through to the consumer with key stakeholders in between – suppliers, processors, packers, hauliers and retailers. As providers of software solutions that enable our food sector customers to gain greater control and vision over who and what is in their supply chain, Muddy Boots have been monitoring and analysing the development of Blockchain technology with great interest. At this stage however we believe that due to its immaturity and the difficulties of integration with other technologies, it still has a way to go before it’s ready to be adopted by the enterprise food chain.

The premise behind Blockchain is that no one is wanting an individual to have complete control of the supply chain or the data relating to it. The “decentralisation” of Blockchain means that any data placed in the system can be centrally accessed by any of the participants, but it cannot be fraudulently tampered with by any individual participant.

Jez Pile, Chief Technical Officer here at Muddy Boots Software discussed Blockchain technology saying, “we understand and support the premise that the use of Blockchain can be used to improve and increase the transparency between stakeholders of supply chain participants, but feel that this technology isn’t quite ready to completely replace existing supply chain systems. It certainly has the ability to augment and provide alternative options.”

Within a supply chain, the traceability of a single product, such as a loose banana, is somewhat straight forward to do using Blockchain. However when expanding and scaling out to more complex products with multiple ingredients with extensive supply chain links, a seafood paella for example, it becomes much more challenging to ensure traceability of every single component added to the end product. You have to take into account the ingredients used through to the processes taken to get to the end product.

Additionally, all participants within the supply chain must be engaged within the system either directly or through a common standard of data exchange. However with ingredients often coming from multiple countries across the globe to make up a finished product (like paella), every single contributor to the end product has to not only be able to input their data into the chain, but have access to the latest technology and internet coverage to do so in the first place.

“At Muddy Boots, we are strongly committed to participating in schemes and industry standards which promote the sharing of information in an agreed standard across multiple stakeholders throughout the supply chain to improve data distribution” concludes Jez. “We are watching the development of Blockchain very keenly and will use this time to assess and map the developments in technology, the advancements in integration and who the key players are that we could partner with, so that when Blockchain has had time to mature, we are ready to implement it within our current systems.”

By Jack Evans | Head of Commercial

Published: 21st March 2018

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