The world’s number two supermarket business in terms of sales, Albertsons Companies, has now joined up with the Food Trust Blockchain by IBM. This digital system tracks and traces food between suppliers and retailers.
Thursday saw an announcement that Albertsons is going to start with a trial that involves romaine lettuce suppliers – last year, this was a product that was linked to an E. coli outbreak. There were five deaths as well as 96 hospitalizations and, therefore, huge-scale recalls.
Albertsons is a company based in Boise, Idaho, that has almost 2300 stores in the U.S. These include Shaw’s, Safeway, Jewel-Osco, and Acme chains. According to The Balance Small Business, it came into second place for supermarket sales in 2017 with $57 billion – Kroger was first. With the addition of Albertsons, there are over 80 brands that are involved in the Food Trust.
“Pièce de résistance”
Food Trust, which is arguably IBM Blockchain’s pièce de résistance went into production last October. It tackles a huge issue in the commercial food chain in that it can pinpoint a problematic batch of goods and stop them from being circulated. This means that retailers don’t have to trawl their shelves and remove every affected item, whether that’s beef, lettuce, or spinach, etc.
This seems to be an exciting proposition. Recently, Food Trust recruited Carrefour, one of the largest Supermarkets in Europe, alongside other giants in the food industry like Nestle, Walmart, Tyson Foods, Dole Foods, Unilever, and Kroger. There have been over 500,000 traced conducted on this platform up to now. A trace represents one lot. There can be different numbers of items in each lot, depending on the company.
Strength in numbers
Albertsons Group Vice President for IT, Rucha Nanavati has said how she believes power comes in numbers. She remarked how easy it is to do product recalls this way.
Walmart and IBM have been testing blockchain in this way from 2016. There was a proof of concept complete with the Tsinghua University of Beijing that centered on the pork market in China. This is a massive market yet the time was reduced to minutes rather than days.
Offering director for IBM Food Trust commented on the speed of these checks. She said how typically "these investigations can take months in some cases to get to a root source, some investigations don't get to a root source, so the companies are left to get all products off the shelf."
According to Nanavati, Albertsons has begun to think which product categories to add next. However, the focus has to be on ensuring the success of the romaine lettuce pilot. Usually, this takes many months, but with this new method, it is set to take mere weeks.
Last year, Walmart issued a mandate to leafy green suppliers, which stated that they intended to be on the blockchain by the end of September this year. Nanavati was asked if Albertsons will follow suit, to which she believes they are "in a position to do so."