Dole promises farm-to-shelf tracking
Technology

Dole promises farm-to-shelf blockchain tracking of all foods by 2025

Food giant will be use tracking technologies in every supply chain, increasing food safety while reducing food waste

One of the world’s biggest food companies has announced it will be using IBM Food Trust’s blockchain technology to ensure all its products are fully traceable by 2025.

In its 2020 Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Report, Dole said it was putting blockchain at the core of one of the three pillars of its 2030 Goals, pledging to maintain food safety “by providing retailers and consumers with safe, healthy, nutritious and responsibly grown food.”

Dole promises farm-to-shelf tracking
A QR code will let you trace that pineapple from the supermarket right back to her (Photo: Dole).

The company said blockchain is helping to bring about a “step change” in food safety, meaning investigations that would have once taken weeks are completed in “mere seconds.”

Fresh produce can be logged on the blockchain and instantly tracked through the supply chain. According to Dole, this speeds up recalls and boosts consumer confidence.

The need for speed was made clear in 2018, when two Romaine lettuce E.coli outbreaks took weeks to track back to farms, forcing the destruction of every leaf in the United States—a waste of tons of nutritious food, as well as millions of dollars. 

“Eventually, consumers will be able to scan each bag of salad or package of vegetables in-store to get information about its journey from farm to store shelf,” the company said in the report. 

Fields of expertise

Dole’s plans to use blockchain technology are listed alongside a raft of other measures—including donating fresh fruit to underserved communities, making packaging materials entirely recyclable or compostable, and reducing water usage during production processes.

The company’s report notes that it has already been using blockchain in parts of its supply chain—namely for salads and fresh vegetables—adding: “Security measures built into the system prevent each retailer from seeing proprietary information about another retailer’s products and vice versa.”

Although Dole has left the door open for alternative technologies to be used in its quest to achieve traceability in supply chains, the company says it has plans to roll out blockchain across other lines of produce “in the near future.” 

Sowing change

Dole’s determination to ramp up its usage of blockchain comes almost three years after the company became a founding member of the IBM Food Trust, along other major manufacturers and retailers such as Nestlé, Walmart, Tyson Foods and Unilever.

In 2018, a year after its involvement was first announced, Dole was already enthusiastic about the impact of blockchain. Speaking at a food industry conference, its vice president of food safety and quality, Natalie Dyenson, said: “By simplifying on-farm and front-office reporting and putting data on the blockchain, IBM Food Trust has helped Dole unlock the value of compliance data across our suppliers and partners in a cost-effective way.”

The following year, Dole featured in an IBM advertisement promoting its blockchain solutions, with one of the company’s managers saying: “When a recall happens, perfectly good food goes to waste. Now, we’ve got a way around that. Blockchain helps pinpoint a problem anywhere, from farm to shelf.”

By tracking shipments of fresh foods, blockchain can highlight congestion points reducing fresh foods’ shelf life and—combined with internet of things-based sensors—even being alerted when refrigerated foods are going above temperature, risking spoilage and waste. That ensures more produce reaches dinner tables.

Reaping rewards

In June 2019, Walmart China began using blockchain to reassure consumers in a nation with an atrocious food safety record—using technology that allows shoppers to scan products on the shelves using their smartphones. In an instant, they can find out where the produce has come from, assess its shipping history, and obtain inspection reports.

Provenance is another use for IBM Food Trust’s blockchain, particularly with the organic, sustainably produced, and ethically sourced foods for which consumers have proven willing to pay a premium. 

The French supermarket chain Carrefour has been a pioneer in bringing IBM Food Trust’s value to the consumer. That began in March 2019 when it added mobile phone-scannable QR codes to packages of locally sourced chicken, allowing consumers to see the supply chain going back to individual farms.

Elsewhere, Nestlé teamed up with Carrefour to track the quality and origins of baby formula. Earlier this month, the food giant also announced it was using the blockchain so Swedish coffee drinkers could trace arabica beans back to where they were grown.

Edited 5:42 p.m. on April 24, 2020 to remove exclusive.

C Sephton is a journalist with an interest in cryptocurrencies, personal finance, and financial inclusion—as well as the challenges the crypto industry faces in achieving mainstream adoption. He owns cryptocurrencies.