Bumble Bee Foods is tracking seafood across global supply chains through blockchain

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Bumble Bee Foods, North America’s largest branded shelf-stable seafood company, has announced that it will use the SAP cloud platform blockchain to trace the movement of yellowfin tuna from the Indonesian ocean to the consumer’s cart. The seafood behemoth has traditionally shown interest in understanding the environment from where it sources its fish, with blockchain being its latest tool of choice.

In many ways, looking for visibility in supply chains is a valid concern – several small-scale fishing operators catch the tuna off the coast of east Indonesian islands, thus making it vital for the company to take stock of the situation and maintain quality to the very last fish that goes through its supply chain. “We’ve been doing traceability for a long time, and we decided to leverage new technologies to make it even more secure,” said Tony Costa, chief information officer at Bumble Bee. “Quite frankly, we’re just scratching the surface on the capabilities of the technology in our supply chain.”

The issues related to the international seafood trade scene is telling. Oceana, a marine conservation non-profit, recently published a U.S.-based report on the extent of seafood fraud. The U.S. is particularly vulnerable as 90 percent of all the seafood consumed within the country gets imported – often from the farthest corners of southeast Asia. What is even more worrying is the scant frequency of fraud inspections – less than one percent of total seafood imports are inspected for fraud/mislabeling.

“Despite growing concern about where our food comes from, consumers are frequently served a completely different type of fish than the one they paid for. As Oceana’s nationwide study and others demonstrate, seafood may be mislabeled as often as 26 to 87 percent of the time for commonly swapped fish such as grouper, cod and snapper, disguising fish that are less desirable, cheaper or more readily available,” said Oceana in its report.

Oceana concluded that mislabeling was found in 17 of the 46 fish types that it tested, and that 44 percent of the grocery stores, restaurants and sushi venues the non-profit organization visited sold mislabeled seafood. “With more than 1,700 different species of seafood from all over the world available for sale in the U.S., it is unrealistic to expect the American consumer to be able to independently and accurately determine what they are actually eating,” said the report.

Blockchain’s relevance in this logistics quagmire is evident. Not only is the ecosystem extremely opaque with regard to product sourcing, but also is bogged down by labeling errors that could either be genuine or fraudulent.

Bumble Bee customers now will be able to readily access the complete origin and history of the company’s yellowfin tuna products by using their smartphones to scan a QR code on the product package. This leads SAP’s blockchain platform to display information about the fish-to-market journey, including the size of the catch, point of capture and the fishing community that caught it, as well as valuable insights to verify authenticity, freshness, safety, fair trade fishing certification and sustainability.

This move should help Bumble Bee hold the loyalty of its customers and tighten its supply chain by reducing mislabeling and identifying fish producers who do not meet the company’s quality standards. The retailers who will stock Bumble Bee’s first batch of blockchain-traced tuna include Albertsons, Hy-Vee, Price Chopper and Safeway.

It is also interesting to note that Bumble Bee and SAP have collaborated on a private distributed ledger called Multichain, developed at Coin Sciences, a U.K.-based startup. The word ‘private’ is key, as it would mean that unlike the usual trait of blockchain platforms distributing equal ownership across all stakeholders in the network, the Bumble Bee blockchain would allow the seafood company to exert a broader control over the data being transferred.

Though such a blockchain platform would be beneficial to Bumble Bee and its customers, it would be better for the blockchain logistics ecosystem to encourage open, decentralized blockchain networks, because that would lead to the development of more blockchain platforms and applications. Pursuing that goal is the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA), a consortium that is looking to make open blockchain applications in transportation, freight and logistics a reality. BiTA is doing this by bringing hundreds of stakeholders together to build a framework for open blockchain standards, which it expects will act as a bedrock for the development of several blockchain platforms.

Then again, any blockchain platform at the moment is definitely a positive. Use cases like the Bumble Bee tuna-tracking platform will help expand blockchain’s reach and foster the growth of similar solutions in the logistics space.