By: Amanda Saxton, Education, Manager, Food Marketing Institute

blockchainThere is a huge desire to trace goods, particularly fresh goods, from farm to table. With the potential for more foodborne illness outbreaks resulting in recalls, the industry must be able to more readily recall and identify the source of the contamination. I discussed the possibilities of blockchain with Jay Schulman, national leader, blockchain and cryptocurrency of RSM US LLP, to learn how food retailers can use this technology now and in the future. 

Q: How is blockchain impacting retailers?

Schulman's Answer: Blockchain is a great use case for tracking food through the supply chain and ultimately providing a trace back which may improve our ability to identify the source of the foodborne illness. In order to track a vegetable from the farm to the table, each participant has to supply information. 

Q: What else can retailers use blockchain for?

Schulman's AnswerOnce the data are on the blockchain, there are so many other uses for the same data.  Very easily, you can provide traceability information to consumers to allow them to see which farm their lettuce came from and on what day it was picked.  As a retailer, providing transparency on generic items can decrease the impact on brand name goods by providing origination information about the products. Additionally, being able to track trade promotions, facilitate the payment of invoices, and verify that goods were transported as specified are use cases that are currently in development.

But blockchain is just a way to collect data on the goods that retailers use. The competitive advantage between retailers will be their ability to use that data to transform their business. While just putting the data on the blockchain will provide meaningful improvement in many areas, actually being able to make informed business decisions will separate the competitors in this space.

Q: How does blockchain affect retailers’ relationships with their suppliers?

Schulman's AnswerLogistics companies will be in an interesting position once IoT data is placed on the blockchain. Today, issues with product are generally between the supplier and the retailer. [For example,] with IoT data recording the temperature of the truck, whether the truck door is open or closed and other key data, the supplier and retailer can identify instances where on a hot day in Arizona, the truck couldn’t keep goods cool enough and the shipment needs to be written off. It will be interesting to see the dynamic between a retailer, supplier and transporter change as each party shares and utilizes the same data on a blockchain.

Q: What are three takeaways that attendees should expect to have from this session?

Schulman's Answer: At this point in the evolution of blockchain in the food industry, it’s not an if but a when.  Attendees will understand how blockchain and the common use cases (such as food recall) work, what retailers need to think about today as they anticipate utilizing blockchain technology and what are the uses cases beyond fresh groceries that will also impact retailers.

In Summary

There are plenty of examples on the use of blockchains in the financial industry and other industries. Blockchain is one tool to accomplish that goal. Learn more at the Financial Executive and Internal Auditors Conference from May 5 – 7, 2019 in Riverwalk, San Antonio, Texas. 

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