Using blockchain to track Champagne…or anything else

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Tyler Jenks gave a speech at the Blockchain Summit of the Digital Chamber of Commerce in Washington that spoke of major impacts on trucking, and he barely even mentioned trucks.

Jenks, senior vice president for solutions at blockchain company Very, gave an address in which the ostensible topic was the supply chain of Champagne, and how the various parts of the supply chain can ultimately ensure that what those who bought a bottle of the bubbly are drinking real Champagne, per the French definition, and not something with grapes grown from a different region or failing to meet some of the many other specifications that qualifies it as Champagne. 

But while Jenks’ remarks may have focused on one small–albeit popular–product, he said the points he was attempting to make could go for any part of a supply chain.

“It’s an identical problem,” he said on the conference sidelines after his address. “The agricultural piece is just an example because people understand it.”

The key to repairing and ensuring the integrity of supply chains is data, not the technology, Jenks said. “Once you have the data you can do with it whatever you want to do.” But putting the data on a distributed ledger has the added feature that it is tamper-proof, or “immutable” in distributed ledger-speak.

The blockchain-enabled Champagne example in his speech featured a wide range of devices that would fall under the internet of things (IoT) definition. It would go beyond simply tracking the origin and movement of bottles. For example, devices that measured growing temperatures, soil sensors ad wind speed would all contribute data to a blockchain tracking every grape that went into the making of an individual bottle of Champagne. The data would be recorded on a blockchain. And by definition, the piles of data that would go into tracking the history of any product would also involve its transportation.

Jenks even played a fake “Alexa” intelligent personal assistant, being asked to provide information on the a bottle the owner was drinking. Gathering the data is not an issue, Tyler said: “This is available today.” 

Jenks’ remarks were made prior to a presentation by Rohit Tandon, the founder and CEO of Chainworks on enterprise blockchain, which is generally defined as a blockchain solution adopted by a company or a group of companies. Tandon spoke of “business value networks” in which individual distributed ledgers created to serve a particular industry sector work together through what he said would be a “cross channel protocol that will emerge.” Tandon also said he expected that commerce would be transacted using a token in a BVN, because it would presumably involve companies doing business in multiple countries and only a token could easily bridge that gap.

In his post-address comments, Jenks did not dispute that. But he said based on the work his company has done, he would expect that it will “be more important to connect companies along its supply chain, and not necessarily its competitors.” “In an ideal world, they’re all using the same blockchain and playing nice, but anybody looking to dominate is going to be one of the first to use the system,” Jenks added. “Probably one player leads the way. That’s the way business works.”

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John Kingston

John has an almost 40-year career covering commodities, most of the time at S&P Global Platts. He created the Dated Brent benchmark, now the world’s most important crude oil marker. He was Director of Oil, Director of News, the editor in chief of Platts Oilgram News and the “talking head” for Platts on numerous media outlets, including CNBC, Fox Business and Canada’s BNN. He covered metals before joining Platts and then spent a year running Platts’ metals business as well. He was awarded the International Association of Energy Economics Award for Excellence in Written Journalism in 2015. In 2010, he won two Corporate Achievement Awards from McGraw-Hill, an extremely rare accomplishment, one for steering coverage of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and the other for the launch of a public affairs television show, Platts Energy Week.