Trash panda buffet (via Wikimedia Commons).

Deloitte: Blockchain can help fresh food industry save the world

Just 4% of the suppliers and retailers of meat and produce are using blockchain. But with the population skyrocketing and 40% of food wasted, that will have to change

Over the next three decades, fresh foods industry blockchain technology will become necessary to feed the world.

Yet just 4% of fresh food manufacturers and retailers are currently using or actively incorporating blockchain technology, according to a recent Deloitte study, “The Future of Fresh.”

Barb Renner

Fortunately, that’s poised to grow to more than 60%, Barb Renner, vice chairman and U.S. consumer products leader for the global audit and consulting giant, told Modern Consensus.

“With the expectation that the world’s population grows another 50% by 2050, there’s an acknowledgement by many [food suppliers] that the way we’re doing things today, we will not be able to feed the population of 2050,” Renner noted. “And so, we have to make these changes.” 

Doing that will require “more than blockchain, obviously,” said Renner. 

But along with other innovations that keep fresh food fresher, improving supply chains using blockchain can be a vital part of the mix, she said. 

Paying for provenance 

Fresh food industry blockchain projects like the IBM Food Trust are already seeing success.

It’s not just to help track down e.coli-tainted Romaine lettuce faster. Part of what’s driving this is that food provenance, sustainability, and organic credentials come with a premium price tag that many consumers are willing to pay.

“[M]ost companies are motivated, obviously, when there’s a return on their investment,” said Renner.

Companies like Walmart are forcing suppliers to get onboard to speed delivery and cut wastage in shipping food from the farm to the table. French supermarket Carrefour has put QR codes on locally sourced chickens so consumers trace their package back to a specific farmer.

While there is obviously an adoption curve, “it’s similar to what we’ve seen in the adoption of other disruptive technology,” Renner said. “There’s the fast forward people, there’s the quick followers, and then there’s the laggers.”

“We’re definitely seeing it in the fresh space,” she added. “Obviously leafy greens—that probably has more issues than others. Chicken and fruit are both really focused on it, probably the most within the supply chain.”

However, a big driver of blockchain adoption for “fast forward” firms like Walmart and Carrefour, would be that they have been “adversely impacted by food quality or food waste,” she said.

Blockchain saves the world

With food loss and wastage at 40% in the U.S., there’s a big financial motivation, Renner noted.

Here, the causes range from spoilage during shipping to throwing out half the broccoli on your plate. 

“Really, it’s 40% around the world,” Renner added. “It just happens in different parts of the food chain.”

Which means there’s a lot of money to be saved with a more efficient and transparent supply chain. 

However, the commitment by fresh food manufacturers and retailers needed to cut that waste has to run deeper than money, she said. 

Over the next three decades, that 50% population growth could make blockchain a key part of feeding the world, Renner said.

“We don’t have unlimited resources,” Renner added.

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Leo Jakobson, Modern Consensus editor-in-chief, is a New York-based journalist who has traveled the world writing about incentive travel. He has also covered consumer and employee engagement, small business, the East Coast side of the Internet boom and bust, and New York City crime, nightlife, and politics. Disclosure: Jakobson has put some 401k money into Grayscale Bitcoin Trust.