RETAIL NEWS

Walmart requiring lettuce suppliers to join blockchain

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

A discount giant is requiring lettuce suppliers to join its blockchain-enabled food safety and traceability initiative.

On Monday, Walmart sent a letter to “leafy green” suppliers mandating that companies can trace their products back to farms, by production lot, in seconds. This will require suppliers to capture digital, end-to-end traceability event information using blockchain technology.

The program, called the “Walmart Food Traceability Initiative,” requires suppliers to use the IBM Food Trust network, which is based on blockchain technology. Suppliers that provides leafy green vegetables directly to Walmart stores to the grocery chains need to upload traceability data to the blockchain network by Jan. 31, 2019. Third-party companies working with suppliers are expected to enable end-to-end traceability back to farm by Sept. 30, 2019, according to the letter.

“We have worked closely with IBM and other food companies to create a user-friendly, low-cost, blockchain-enabled traceability solution that meets our requirements and creates shared value for the entire leafy green farm to table continuum,” the letter reported.

The program is designed to confirm food safety, as well as to quickly and accurately respond to food safety issues, such as e.Coli and salmonella contamination. It will also replace traditional paper-based methods that many farms, packing houses and warehouses use to capture information between multiple sources. This previous, cumbersome process could take up to seven days or users to track down where a product came from, obtain the paper-based data, and then contact the supplier and company that imported or shipped the product to Walmart’s distribution center.

“The food system is absolutely too large for any single entity to [track]. It was difficult for consumers to know how to determine where their lettuce was grown,” explained Frank Yiannas, VP of food safety at Walmart.

Now farmers use a handheld system to capture product information that is digitized, and add it to the blockchain network. The product’s information is also captured at the supplier’s packing house.

“In the future, using the technology we’re requiring, a customer could potentially scan a bag of salad and know with certainty where it came from,” he added.

(To hear Yiannis discuss the Walmart Food Traceability Initiative, click here.)

This is not Walmart’s first try at blockchain. The company began testing this strategy with IBM in August 2017. The partners used the test to create “a safety system where supplier partners could collaborate, and capture information of product, including where its been, then link it with other data points, including the Internet of Things, to create a safer, more sustainable food system,” Yiannas said in a company video on Youtube.

In addition, on May 17, the discounter filed a patent for a blockchain-based user interface that enables customers to resell merchandise at a new price. This blockchain ledger would track the items that customers purchase from specific Walmart stores and the customer who buys it. The register will enable customers to register the purchased item, as well as choose a price for a resale, acting as a digital marketplace.

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