French retailer to launch food blockchain

The multinational France-based supermarket chain Carrefour said it plans to launch “Europe’s first food blockchain,” in collaboration with IBM, by incorporating blockchain technology into eight of its product lines by the end of 2018, making it easier to monitor their respective supply chains.

The move is an extension of Carrefour’s existing service, which allows customers to use smartphones to scan a code on a free-range chicken in-store, in order to instantly trace the origins of the poultry. (Fans of the TV show “Portlandia” may be chuckling now.)

Use of the automatic ledgering system is part of the company’s five-year plan to increase its investments in technology six-fold to US$3.2 billion, in order to compete with leaders in retail innovation, like Amazon and its subsidiary, Whole Foods.

At Blockchain NW in June, Kurt Wedgewood, blockchain leader at IBM, explained the benefits that blockchain could bring to a food supply chain, citing as an example Walmart’s recall of mangoes. In essence, optimizing food supply chains with blockchain is thought to be particularly beneficial for the commodity, due to the time-sensitive nature of the perishable cargo. With blockchain-based systems, logistics managers are able to access data about the location and origin of a shipment more quickly, and more confidently, creating accountability among supply chain partners.

While the potential benefits that a blockchain-based supply chain are tantalizing, the path forward for technologically ambitious companies like Carrefour has yet to be cleared. Full implementation of such systems requires the participation of partners – e.g., suppliers and logistics companies – which may not be interested in participating in a blockchain-based system. So, it will be interesting to witness how companies approach these dynamics in coming years.

Carrefour said it will apply IBM’s blockchain solution across its own-branded products in France, Spain and Brazil, and expand into other countries by 2022.

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