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French retailer Carrefour is putting blockchain on its food shelves

French retailer Carrefour is putting blockchain on its food shelves (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

At the Blockchain Europe Expo held in Amsterdam, Emmanuel Delerm, project management specialist at French multinational retailer Carrefour, spoke on the possibilities of building consumer trust through the use of blockchain in food traceability. Carrefour began its blockchain project about 2.5 years ago, with the initiative bearing fruit through an elaborate provenance tracking platform that now accounts for several products like chicken, tomatoes, milk, eggs and cheese.

“Our blockchain program is displays the trust we’ve built with farmers, intermediaries and people who work in the packing industry. When you buy a product it has a QR code on its packaging, and that directly takes you to the web page where we show the batch number, the order number, shelf life and the like,” said Delerm.

For this, Carrefour had to start somewhere, and it did from the poultry industry – quite specifically, with Auvergne free-range chicken. The company connected all the stakeholders in the chicken supply chain, including the farm, the livestock breeders’ union, the feed factory, the vet, the slaughterhouse, and the processing and packaging center through its blockchain platform for seamless relaying of information.

The resulting value chain provided consumers a clear understanding of what went into rearing poultry – right from the hatching of the chicken, the place it was bred, the cereal it was fed, and its age at the time of slaughter. These updates, Delerm noted, were very specific to individual chicken, with exact details coming up with every package a consumer picks up at a Carrefour outlet.

“Transparency builds up trust. When you have a community of people who are working to make the best product and have the consumers who wish to engage with those people, blockchain can be of help,” said Delerm.

Delerm explained how blockchain can essentially help with “extending the size of the packaging,” and how Carrefour leveraged that to provide much more information on a product than what could be said on the packaging itself. Carrefour has now partnered with IBM Food Trust and Swiss multinational food and beverage company Nestle to explore the potential of exchanging mutually trustworthy data and how that can help both the companies in improving consumer confidence in their products.

Providing added information on food products is critical because consumers are increasingly concerned about what they put in their bodies. Delerm mentioned that Carrefour’s data shows that roughly 40 percent of its customers use their smartphones while moving through the store aisles, and the information embedded within QR codes might be vital for a product to be picked – inevitably, affecting its overall sales figures.

The wild popularity of smartphone apps that rank products on customer reviews is also causing a shift in the purchasing behavior of consumers. Delerm pointed at apps in France that rate products on a scale of 1 to 100, and will suggest substitutes if the product in question is not great. Such apps have millions of downloads.

If blockchain-based provenance tracking is made mainstream, it can actually help companies create separate product lines based on specific product descriptions – like the place of origin, feed, quality, shelf life and even the length of its supply chain. For instance, product lines like wine can be labeled based on individual farms rather than regions, giving consumers the opportunity to develop loyalties and providing vineyard owners the chance to take credit for their work in the field.