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OM in the News: Farm to Cradle–Tracking Gerber Baby Food on the Blockchain

August 10, 2018

Gerber traced the ingredients of its sweet potato, apple and pumpkin puree on the Food Trust blockchain

Gerber is putting some of its baby food products on a food-tracking blockchain to test whether the technology can trace the fruits and vegetables that go into its products, writes The Wall Street Journal (Aug. 1, 2018). Gerber’s effort is part of a wider food-industry exercise aimed at improving food recalls by using the technology behind bitcoin to trace a worldwide ingredient supply chain. Food recalls can diminish consumer confidence and lead to lost sales. News of tainted baby food hits an especially sensitive nerve – stakes that in part prompted Gerber to choose blockchain.

Gerber has discovered that putting blockchain technology to use in a corporate supply chain takes some grunt work, mainly centered on moving data from the company’s SAP SE enterprise software onto the shared digital ledger. Another wrinkle is dealing with the mix of paper and electronic data in different formats, from farmers, processors and others in its supply chain.

Gerber (and parent Nestle) are working with 9 other large food companies, including rivals Unilever and Walmart, and with IBM on a blockchain system called Food Trust, to trace food and ingredients worldwide. (The 107-year-old IBM sees blockchain as a key area of growth). The theory is that having partners and competitors share a single record-keeping system can speed up investigations of bad food and make recalls more accurate and less expensive. IBM supplies the blockchain technology and a mobile app that farmers and others can use to enter data onto the Food Trust system. For companies using Food Trust, data about harvests, processing, packaging and shipping is stored electronically on the blockchain system, which can allow trace-backs in seconds compared to days and weeks.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Why blockchain?
  2. Why is Gerber working with competitors on this technology?

 

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