Trusting in food: Blockchain for a potato chip
Next time you hear potato chips rustling appetizingly in their bag, blockchain technology might be in there as well. Blockchain makes it possible to track products transparently throughout their life cycle – even in the food industry, from tuber to chip bag. Thus both makers and consumers can be sure that only high-quality goods are getting processed – and that when something is labeled as organic, it really is organic.
Is there anybody who doesn’t enjoy settling down for an evening of TV with a bag of potato chips? According to the label on the bag, the product is supposed to come from monitored organic farms. But how does a consumer know organic quality is really 100 percent guaranteed? And anyway, practically every product these days bears some kind of quality seal.
It’s not just because of various scandals that more and more consumers want more information from makers. They want to be fully informed about products and where they come from. Which is something that gets the highest priority precisely in sectors like the food industry, as well as the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, power generation, and banks. The desire for transparency here is an outgrowth of the rising demand for the greatest possible number of product details. How can companies ensure that their clientele gets those details, and thus set themselves apart from competitors who have similar products with alternative components?
Trust through transparency
For that purpose, the information about an end product should be as extensive, reliable and easily accessible as possible. Which might be done by way of a QR code, for example, that provides access to all available information about origins of the individual components or production conditions, transportation and packaging. And in fact, if that information matches what a customer values and prefers, 86 percent of consumers would even be willing to pay a higher price (Transparency Content and the Consumer Journey, response media, 2017).
In sensitive sectors like the food and beverage industry especially, such traceable, reliable information is also important to stakeholders in the production chain, so they can make sure they comply with the necessary regulations, and document that compliance. In that way, in a globalized goods economy, documentation of origin, transparent distribution and compliance with quality standards can be guaranteed.
Data for greater security
Cloud-based platforms and various technologies make it possible to record, filter, analyze and combine data from various steps within a production life cycle. Blockchain technology was investigated in the search for a manipulation-proof technology for tracking these data, which would make it possible to design digital processes and transactions in such a way that they can be traced and monitored by all stakeholders in the product life cycle.
Blockchain technology opens up opportunities
This technology currently counts as one of the biggest economic innovations in recent history. It’s based on a defined database structure into which no single transaction or item of information is immutably entered and recorded unless the parties involved have consented. After a certain time, the transactions carried out to that point are combined into blocks and provided with a checksum – known as a hash value – and a time stamp. Once a verified entry has been made, it can never be changed. By today’s standards, that means this technology is considered especially secure. The new blocks are attached to a chain of blocks that is already established. Thus the information chain grows, and all participants in the network always have the same copy of the encrypted data, which they can check anytime, in real time.
A “verified” certificate
So let’s look again at our potato chips with an organic certificate. Everyone involved in the potato chip production process knows at all times what is happening to the product, or its ingredients, as well as where and how. All the way from the organic farmer’s field where the potatoes are grown, to their storage warehouse, their transport and processing – like slicing, frying and seasoning – and onwards to packaging and distribution to the grocer. At each station the potato passes through, data are generated that can be recorded. But before those data are incorporated into the blockchain, they have to be verified by everyone involved in the network.
Ultimately, that provides the consumer with an uninterrupted information chain that can be examined anytime, and that guarantees the buyer’s chips are made – for example – of 100% organically grown potatoes, and that they were processed under optimum conditions.
Cost-effective data use
Siemens too is relying on this innovative technology, and is working with Atos IT Solutions and Services GmbH to develop the first tracking & tracing applications for the food and beverage industry. To do that, they’re combining blockchain technology with existing, established systems like MindSphere – a cloud-based, open IoT operating system – and a portfolio of communication-ready hardware.
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