IBM Corp. will collaborate with a group of global food supply chain companies including Nestlé, Unilever, and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. on using blockchain software technology to address food safety challenges, the companies said Tuesday.
The consortium—which also includes Dole Foods, Driscoll's, Golden State Foods, Kroger Co., McCormick and Co., McLane Co., and Tyson Foods Inc.—will work with IBM to identify new areas where the global supply chain can benefit from blockchain's secure data-sharing approach, IBM said.
Blockchain is software technology that supports a secure, shared data network that allows each business partner to track its own data, while ensuring that no single party can modify or delete any record without the consensus of other partners on the network. In the food industry, blockchain works by establishing a trusted source of information for all transactions, including global food supply chain participants from growers and suppliers to processors, distributors, retailers, regulators, and consumers.
Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM has been promoting the technology for applications in logistics this year by launching a "Blockchain Founder Accelerator" to advise early adopters and by teaming with Danish shipping giant Maersk Line to speed the flow of data through its global supply chain.
The food industry group now hopes to apply that technology to help solve critical health and safety issues such as cross-contamination, the spread of foodborne illness, unnecessary waste, and the economic burden of product recalls, IBM said. Applied to food logistics, blockchain technology can improve the traceability of shipments by providing better access to information, allowing food providers to identify the precise point of any contamination before it causes further illness, lost revenue, or wasted product, the company said.
"Unlike any technology before it, blockchain is transforming the way like-minded organizations come together and enabling a new level of trust based on a single view of the truth," Marie Wieck, general manager of IBM Blockchain, said in a statement.
IBM will accelerate the adoption of blockchain technology across the food sector by introducing an enterprise-grade blockchain platform running on its IBM Cloud, and by offering consulting services that help organizations develop, operate, govern, and secure these networks, the company said.
"Blockchain technology enables a new era of end-to-end transparency in the global food system—equivalent to shining a light on food ecosystem participants that will further promote responsible actions and behaviors," Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety for Wal-Mart, said in a statement. "It also allows all participants to share information rapidly and with confidence across a strong trusted network. This is critical to ensuring that the global food system remains safe for all."
Other blockchain initiatives in logistics over the past year include a $2.3 million push by Dutch supply chain firms to apply the technology to the country's logistics sector; Walmart's decision to use the software to track its food shipments in China, and the decision by German software giant SAP SE to build blockchain capabilities into its cloud-based business network.