The world’s largest retailer, both by revenue and by employee count, Walmart tells suppliers to use IBM Blockchain Food Trust platform, beginning with its leafy green producers in the U.S.
Announced in a press release on Monday, the mandate which also includes Walmart’s retail warehouse Sam’s Club, requires all relevant suppliers to be fully integrated a year from now, making it one of the biggest commercial uses of blockchain technology.
Utilising IBM’s distributed ledger technology that is permission-based, the company aims to expedite the traceability of contaminated foods, Matt Smith of Walmart communications stated:
“With blockchain, research that used to take 7 days can now take as little as 2.2 seconds”
Citing the recent U.S. “outbreak of E. coli in romaine lettuce” as a catalyst, Walmart’s press release explained that consumers were unable to identify produce originating from the effected Arizona farm, thus resulting in mass food wastage and major losses for all lettuce farmers.
Pioneering the use of blockchain technology for the retail industry with this move to IBM’s food traceability platform, Walmart’s VP of Food Safety, Frank Yiannas stated:
“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.”
According to a letter sent to its leafy green suppliers, Walmart has been collaborating in the development of the IBM platform for the past 18 months, the company states that it has created:
“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,”
Split into two phases that will ensure complete vertical integration, the mandate firstly requires direct suppliers to create “one-step back traceability” by the end of January, followed by a second phase aimed at companies that have suppliers of their own, ensuring farm-to-customer traceability by the end of September 2019.
Beginning with 100 leafy green suppliers throughout the U.S., the blockchain mandate is expected to expand to other products, which in turn will grow the IBM platform further. Walmart’s Yiannas said that it will begin implementing a traceability system “for other fresh fruit and vegetable providers within the next year.”
Vice president of IBM Food Trust, Brigid McDermott expects many users will increase from the free tier that it offers, meaning companies with less than $50 million in revenue could become monthly fee payers of at least several hundred dollars.
Powered by The Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Fabric, in total 10 companies are currently working with IBM on its blockchain food traceability platform, including U.S. giants Unilever NV and Dole Food Co.
According to a study carried out in January by WinterGreen Research Inc., IBM holds a leading 32 percent share of the $700 million-plus market for blockchain products and services, and has also topped the leaderboard for global blockchain patent rankings together with Alibaba.
Other companies working on blockchain supply chain solutions include VeChain that has received investment from ‘big four’ PwC, and Viant a ConsenSys project that is working with Pharma behemoth GlaxoSmithKline fighting fake drugs. As per a previous BCTech Report, Alibaba are combining IoT with blockchain technology to authenticate products with Waltonchain.