Mike Eardley is president and CEO of IDDBA
Ask a retail food professional what trends are impacting shopper buying habits, and chances are, transparency would be one of the responses.
Today’s consumers are knowledgeable and savvy when it comes to the products they seek out and purchase. They want to know where their food is grown and how it was produced. They want clean labeling on food packaging. And they want assurances that the food is fresh and safe to eat.
Both retailers and manufacturers are responding to this trend in a variety of ways, from in-store and online messaging and marketing, to clear and concise information on packaging. Now, we’re seeing new technological advances that are propelling this trend to the next level.
One technology in particular that’s just now being implemented in our industry is what’s known as a blockchain, which provides retailers with a continuously growing digital record of transaction “blocks” within the food supply chain. In addition to eliminating the tedious process of paper records and manual inspection processes, a blockchain also prevents a supply chain’s transaction record from being altered or tampered with, thus assuring accuracy and accountability for fresh food distribution.
And since the blockchain database is not stored in one physical location and available on-demand, records are truly public and easily verifiable.
So, how can retailers capitalize on this new technology?
Here are some thoughts:
Demonstrate commitment to food safety.
The figures are frightening: an estimated one in six Americans are sickened from foodborne illnesses annually, resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Food safety is a pillar of not only IDDBA, but the entire food industry. By implementing a blockchain, retailers and manufacturers can track down the source of foodborne illness in a matter of seconds, as opposed to weeks.
Build shopper trust.
By utilizing blockchain technology, retailers and manufacturers alike can almost instantly track the whereabouts of in-transit products and, if necessary, the source of any contaminations or foodborne illness occurrences. This reaffirms the industry’s commitment to selling high-quality and safe food to consumers. In turn, the level of trust among shoppers will continue to rise, as their view of food retailers will be one of not just a business selling products, but as a true neighbor in the community who is always vigilant and caring for shoppers and their families.
Become expert storytellers through transparency.
Shoppers are seeking a farm-to-table narrative in the food they purchase. They want their local supermarket to be a source of knowledge and an expert on the food it sells, not just on the ingredients and health benefits, but also where it was sourced. A blockchain can eliminate the guesswork on where products were grown or raised. Moreover, this knowledge can be used to develop messages on product labeling, marketing, and messaging. In fact, a narrative could be written on the journey the food took before arriving at the store.
Reduce food waste.
Another positive effect of the technology is the ability to reduce food waste. Through
food chain optimization and visibility back to the producer, retailers could potentially manage the shelf-life of fresh perishables. For example, a retailer could schedule shipments of limited shelf-life products to stores geographically located closer to the producer.