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Blockchain advancements help the restaurant industry

Blockchain boosts transparency, food safety, prevents food fraud

The foodservice industry continues to adopt key technologies to help improve the safety, traceability and profitability of food products. Blockchain technology helps foodservice, having surfaced as a solution that fares prominently among these technologies. Originally created as a secure, peer-to-peer ledger system for the purpose of tracking bitcoins, blockchain now fares prominently as a distributed method of tracking food products for various purposes. Can you imagine the ability to track food products from their source all the way to restaurants? This is a main benefit of blockchain technology for foodservice and restaurants—traceability.

Blockchain technology helps foodservice

Within the food industry, blockchain ledgers can be combined with tracking sensors and other technologies to create a permanent record of a food product’s journey. Thus in the harvesting,processing and distribution journey, blockchain surfaces an ideal solution.

“This (blockchain technology) makes it helpful for supply chain applications where you want to securely share information among multiple entities from producer to the restaurant or retailer, for example,” says Kevin Payne, VP of Marketing at Zest Labs, a provider of technologies that help keep product fresh throughout distribution.“And, with blockchain, you can control who sees particular sets of data.”

Consumers are interested in the history and source of the food and beverages they purchase. Also, 53 percent of consumers seek out locally-produced or -grown food products. Over time, consumers will expect the ability to trace sourcing of specific foods to their origin. Restaurants and distributors that can ensure food traceability will have an advantage in this area. “First and foremost, blockchain can be used to ensure transparency and trust within the food supply chain; creating insights from farm to plate so that consumers know exactly where their food comes from,” says Mark van Rijmenam, author of “Blockchain: Transforming Your Business and Our World.” Van Rijmenam says blockchain technology helps make foodservice supply chain more efficient.

Generating additional profit, preventing fraud

Foodservice suppliers also benefit from improved traceability. With the right blockchain technology and IoT sensors, a case of strawberries can be tracked through the distribution system. It may be that strawberries only have 12 days from the time they are cooled after being picked at harvest, and then make their way to the end user. But if a pallet of strawberries sits in the field too long, it could drastically reduce the life of those strawberries, says Zest Labs’ Payne.In fact, delays in the field alone can reduce product shelf-life by as much as one day per hour that product is kept from being cooled. Technology helps create Improvements at the source to improve food freshness, This is a win-win for producers, suppliers, distributors and restaurants (or grocers), all having a lengthier product life and increasing profits.

Food purveyors and foodservice clients safeguard profits by preventing food fraud, which typically occurs when products of a perceived higher value are swapped out with cheaper goods. In the food industry, news headlines have covered fraud in beef, wine and spirits in the recent past, emphasizing the importance of tracing the origin and provenance of food products. Blockchain helps create that ledger system that tracks products from farm to table to help prevent fraud.. As consumers demand tracing food back to the source and ensuring the provenance of products, this technology becomes more valuable.

Safeguarding sourcing

Blockchain technology can track the freshness of produce, and its journey from farm to table.
Blockchain technology can track the freshness of produce, and its journey from farm to table. Photo by Gabriel Gurrola.

Restaurant chains invest significantly in the procurement of product with specific ingredients as specifications. As chains invest in organic, clean-label ingredients and even products from specific farms or regions, technologies supporting traceability become more critical. In addition to product provenance, blockchain helps identify the source of product, making foods more safe.

“This is an area where blockchain can add value as a data repository,” says Zest Labs’ Payne. “Time and temperature data for each pallet of produce can be collected and, along with data about its origin and ownership, shared at every step along the fresh food supply chain.” Blockchain not only helps identify the source food products, but also tracks their condition. If less food is wasted, as a result, then it is also a significant benefit because many consumers are seeking less food waste by producers and foodservice operations.

Ensuring food safety

Whenever there is an issue of food safety, blockchain technology helps foodservice providers by tracing back each link in the chain. This speeds the ability to identify (the) root of problems with food safety and create accurate recall lists. Says Payne, “Blockchain offers additional value because of its nature as a secure and immutable ledger. Food safety and authenticity can be ensured by providing a trusted and faster method for tracing the source of products.” Tracing backward is not an issue, but tracing forward is, in case of problems identifying with the set of distribution links. That’s why Zest Labs combines blockchain with cloud-based technologies in a product known as Zest Fresh.

Developed by technology consultant, RSM US, LLP, CLEARthru is a traceability solution that uses blockchain technology in an enterprise resource-planning environment to track information about a product all the way to the consumer. At different links in the supply chain, key participants—growers, suppliers, and even consumers—can trace back information about a product and any recall information using a code they can scan. This helps consumers (or end users), which also includes foodservice and restaurant chains, feel better and safer about the food they are using.

“And from a public health and safety perspective, making sure we’re not offering any foods that could potentially be contaminated is paramount,” says Chris Jones, principal of RSM. “We’ve seen outbreaks in the past with large chains. The challenge is that it can be difficult to determine if the issues is sanitary conditions at a specific site or if it’s a larger problem in the supply chain… Tracking foods using blockchain technologies will help identify details quicker. This can have an impact on brand, loyalty and exposure.”

Blockchain’s value-add

Blockchain presents a growing set of additional uses and applications. Author Van Rijmenam notes that some companies are using blockchain technology to create loyalty systems to build more authentic restaurant reviews. A company called SynchroLife awards reviewers points they can use to redeem bitcoins. RSM’s Jones says his company can help manufacturers and retailers create incentives and coupons for consumers when they opt-in to the CLEARthru platform.

Manufacturers and retailers can customize the display information about the platform or scanned products. In this way, clients control messaging, and can deploy their own loyalty programs. It’s clear to see that blockchain uses will increase and evolve over time.

More consumers continue to look for specific attributes in the foods and beverages they purchase,. They are looking for organic and specific provenance, and even where they are produced to ensure they are locally-produced or -grown. This has created a vast and more dispersed supply chain. If suppliers aren’t interacting directly with restaurant chains, they are being added to a large portfolio of suppliers that distributors need to manage. This creates more of a need for technology to help trace the life cycle and journey of ingredients, produce, and packaged foods and beverages.

Blockchain rises rapidly as an essential part of such a technology solution, mainly because of how it creates a dispersed, but secure and immutable ledger of records along the supply chain. This helps create traceability to satisfy various needs, increase food safety and profits, reduce food waste and build greater trust with consumers.

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Photo credit: Johnny Martinez (featured), Gabriela Gurrola (inline)

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