Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Albertsons uses IBM blockchain to trace food supply

Steve Rogerson
May 1, 2019

Albertsons, one of the largest food and drug retailers in the USA, is joining the blockchain-based IBM Food Trust network and will begin piloting the technology to improve how food is traced from farm to store shelf.
The addition of Albertsons to the Food Trust ecosystem of more than 80 brands brings blockchain-based food traceability to more consumers and industry players – from producers to suppliers to retailers – by helping enable greater transparency and collaboration and, ultimately, a safer food supply.
Blockchain is a system of record that establishes a shared environment for food transactions in which all participants can collaborate in a secured and transparent way to build trust. Food Trust enables network members to share digital, distributed and immutable data, so stakeholders across the supply chain can work together to trace and authenticate products or optimise supply chain processes. It creates a digital record of transactions or interactions from a packaging date, to the temperature at which an item was shipped, to its arrival on a grocery shelf.
The growing number of participants using the technology helps address a broad range of food system issues, such as supply chain efficiency, freshness, waste reduction, sustainability and participants' ability to verify certifications, such as fair trade and organic. It is being used to make the end-to-end food ecosystem more transparent and trustworthy, and has the potential to transform broad, nationwide food recalls into efficient, precise eliminations of recalled products. Already, more than five million food products digitised using the technology are on retail shelves.
"Blockchain technology has the potential to be transformational for us as we further build differentiation on our fresh brand," said Anuj Dhanda, chief information officer at Albertsons. "Food safety is a very significant step. In addition, the provenance of the products enabled by blockchain – the ability to track every move from the farm to the customer's basket – can be very empowering for our customers."
Albertsons, which operates nearly 2300 stores across the USA, will pilot Food Trust for tracing bulk romaine lettuce from one of its distribution centres, then will explore expanding to other food categories throughout its distribution network. The pilot should help overcome the obstacles that have existed when a traceback is initiated for a product such as romaine and the retailer is evaluating ways to use the technology to highlight the provenance of its Own Brands portfolio.
"Multiple high-profile consumer advisories from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and the Food & Drug Administration demonstrate the need to find more efficient ways of tracing products and identifying likely sources of contamination in a timely manner," said Jerry Noland, vice president at Albertsons. "Consequently, retailers are exploring new technologies to improve the infrastructure that underpins the global food supply chain."
A blockchain network is strongest when it includes multiple, diverse members that form a transacting ecosystem. That is why it can enable an ecosystem of companies from across the food industry to on-board and share data. Already, members are recommending or mandating that their supply chain partners, such as downstream suppliers, join the network. This is intended to bring a more complete view of the entire lifecycle of a food product.
"Establishing IBM Food Trust and opening it to the food ecosystem last year was a major milestone in making blockchain real for business," said Raj Rao, general manager of IBM Food Trust. "Today, we are focused on ensuring that it scales and is accessible to participants across the food ecosystem, such as Albertsons. By bringing more members into the network and enabling them to share greater cross-sections of data in a secured environment, we believe our vision of a transformed food ecosystem using blockchain is closer than ever."
By creating a transparent, secured information-sharing platform, the food ecosystem can benefit from greater efficiencies and lower barriers to critical information access to help make the food supply chain safer. Built on hyperledger fabric-based open source technology, it uses permissioning to ensure companies can set rules about who can see the data they upload and for how long, and that they maintain control of their data even after they have been uploaded to Food Trust.
Food Trust is one of the largest and most active non-crypto blockchain networks in production. It is available as a subscription service for members of the food ecosystem to join.
Albertsons operates stores across 34 states and the District of Columbia under 20 well-known banners including Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Jewel-Osco, Shaw's, Acme, Tom Thumb, Randalls, United Supermarkets, Pavilions, Star Market, Haggen and Carrs, as well as meal kit company Plated, based in New York.