A Mexican restaurant chain with a strong sustainability commitment has turned to blockchain technology to trace the provenance of its coffee beans from branch to cup.
Restaurant Toks, a casual dining chain with 208 locations across Mexico, has teamed up with blockchain provider Simba Chain and the University of Notre Dame to create a distributed application to register and track every coffee bean it has “purchased, processed, packaged, and sold,” according to a May 7 release. This ensures “the integrity of its coffee supply chain and enabl[es] it to better differentiate coffee products.”
Toks is a member of the UN Global Compact’s Supply Chain Sustainability program, which covers issues like fair labor practices and environmental impact. It’s website offers sourcing information on a variety of ingredients, ranging from honey to free-range chickens.
“Our customers expect us to uphold the highest standards in sustainability and food quality when they dine with us,” said Gustavo Pérez Berlanga, senior vice president of sustainability and social responsibility for Toks Restaurant Group. “It is important that we authenticate, track, and trace every bag by farmer, coffee grade as well as production dates.
He added, “Simba Chain’s smart contract solution will help Toks maintain the high quality that our customers expect and enjoy.”
Tracing the provenance of coffee is a pretty popular use of blockchain technology for a number of reasons, beginning with the fact that many, many people are straight out nuts about the stuff. From $7 cups at Starbucks to $200 home coffee bean grinders, aficionados are very willing to spend on their habit.
So, getting the right bean from the right place can mean big bucks. Hawaiian Kona and Jamaican Blue Mountain are well-known luxury coffees, but serious drinkers will go a long way—Indonesian Kopi Luwak and Thai Black Ivory coffees are among the most expensive coffees in the world, and they are produced by plucking “post-digested” beans from civets and elephants, respectively.
It also has a long supply chain, tracking the coffee beans as they are grown, harvested, graded, deshelled, roasted, and shipped to each restaurant.
But provenance isn’t everything. Coffee growing is labor intensive and largely done in very poor areas of developing countries. So, issues like labor rights, environmental issues, and fair-trade pricing also apply. Even animal welfare: In 2016, National Geographic reported that the civets used to produce Kopi Luwak were often abused.
Simba Chain’s smart-contract-as-a-service (SCaaS) works with Ethereum, Quorum, rsk, Stellar and Hyperledger, among other protocols. Its goal is to make it fast and easy to develop and deploy DApps. Simba Chain’s cloud-based platform tracks every step in the supply chain, creating an auditable, immutable record.
Notre Dame—which invested in Simba Chain—worked on creating the Restaurant Toks program, visiting a number of farming communities the chain deals with.
“Smart contracts are a powerful tool for food producers and restaurant companies that want to bring enhanced security and traceability to their supply chain,” said Joel Neidig, CEO and co-founder of SIMBA Chain. “I commend Toks for taking a leadership role in developing a blockchain-enabled supply chain prototype that adds value for coffee farmers, restaurants, customers, and to the food and restaurant industries at large.”
Tracing food is hardly a new use of blockchain. One of the largest enterprise blockchain solutions actively up and running is IBM Food Trust, which works with firms ranging from Dole and Walmart to French supermarket chain Carrefour. It is also helping Nestlé track a brand of Arabica coffee beans. Last March, the Indian government created a coffee production blockchain with the goal of building a brand and increasing farmers’ incomes.
But Simba’s contract is with a medium-size restaurant chain, rather than a huge producer or retailer. The Restaurant Toks protocol focuses on the provenance not of a pound of beans, but the actual cup of coffee produced for patrons from those beans—a step farther than most of the farm-to-shelf produce traced by IBM Food Trust.
Simba isn’t limiting its efforts to food. An offshoot of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), its original purpose was to create a “secure, unhackable messaging and transaction platform for the United States military,” according to its website.
One of its current contracts is with the U.S. Air Force, to track supplies in the U.S. and on the battlefield. It closed a $1.5 million seed funding round in December and hopes to have the Restaurant Toks prototype ready by the end of the year.