Meat processor Thomas Foods International and independent grocer retailer Drakes Supermarket are the first Australian companies to pilot the IBM Food Trust, a blockchain-based food ecosystem solution.

According to IBM, the distributed ledger system can trace the entire lifecycle of a food product, from region to plate, updating in real time.

Thomas Foods International (FTI) and Drakes Supermarket have been testing IBM Food Trust for the past three months to deliver improvements in day-to-day operational efficiencies. The company said the pilot involved tracing the origin of a piece of steak back to one of four individual farms.

IBM Food Trust said it uses blockchain technology to enable participating retailers, suppliers and growers to collaborate based on a shared view of food ecosystem data to enable greater traceability, transparency and efficiency.

IBM highlighted the importance of this as it provides increased data granularity, which is an enabler for several use cases.

In the event of fast, surgical recalls, customers can quickly identify the amount of product at risk with minimised false positives. The solution also offers product differentiation, which allows retailers to prove the provenance and history of an individual cut of meat.

Rupert Colchester, head of blockchain at IBM Australia and New Zealand, said, “We see blockchain as a potentially game-changing technology for food traceability. Drakes and Thomas Foods have demonstrated how different players in a single supply chain can securely share data and key events, bridging organisational boundaries for the good of both consumers and the benefit of their own business processes.

“We expect to see more of this collaboration in the coming year, with groups of partners working together for the benefit of the entire food Industry. Transparency and traceability are the key to many industries now, and none more so than in the critical issues of food safety and provenance.”

IBM said by removing data silos within the organisations and enabling a high level of data granularity, the pilot has enabled data to be shared across organisations. TFI and Drakes are able to upload data into a shared platform and the life-cycle of the products being traced has been mapped across the organisations, allowing a product to be tracked as it moves through the supply chain.

IBM Food Trust members contribute data to the network. Participants such as TFI can upload their data and share with other organisations within their ecosystem. Organisations within the same supply chain can leverage the information of the partners to establish a single, shared version of truth.

Simon Tamke, global retail sales manager at Thomas Foods International said, “By maintaining the individual data relating to each product instead of moving to data about grouped products, we are achieving a greater understanding of how each food item is moving through the supply chain.

“This added level of transparency and verifiability will reinforce customers’ and consumers’ confidence in the provenance of our product and is made possible by blockchain technology. We are pleased with the steady progress of our blockchain collaboration with IBM, while we continue to receive very positive feedback from the industry and customers.”

Tim Cartwright, general manager – fresh foods from Drakes Supermarket said, “The greater level of granularity since adopting IBM Food Trust has enabled the traceability of a food package across the supply chain, reducing the time required to identify the origin of a product from days to just seconds.”

Last March, Chinese ecommerce site JD.com partnered with Australian beef exporter InterAgri launching a blockchain-enabled tracker system to provide greater transparency about the provenance of beef sold in China.

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