By Landon Manning
As we approach the end of 2019, it’s clear that the year in distributed ledgers was marked by a sharp increase in the practical application of blockchain-based tracking technologies worldwide, highlighted by applications in the supply chains used by major supermarkets and grocery stores.
A major player in this new wave of development has been IBM’s Food Trust platform. Initially making its debut in late 2018, the platform had already signed on several food distributors, from Kroger and Walmart to companies that supply these brick-and-mortar locations like Tyson Foods, Nestle, Unilever and many more.
Over the course of 2019, many companies involved with IBM Food Trust rolled out large initiatives to test out the distributed ledger-based tracking platform on a worldwide scale. For example, Carrefour, the largest grocery store chain in France, has already been looking at the supply chain data around some of its own products within the European Union. Envisioning a model in which increasing numbers of products include QR codes that customers can use to track the history of individual products from their earliest origins, Carrefour has begun tagging some potato and dairy products with this system, sending all of the data gathered to the collective research capacity of the IBM Food Trust.
Through means like this, a wide number of companies participating in the trust could realize the benefits of blockchain-based supply chain management. Although these particular products by Carrefour are likely produced entirely within the boundaries of the European Union, data like this and the mechanism for collecting it could be put to use on a larger scale. Other members of the trust, like Kroger, Tyson and Driscoll’s, are already using their participation in the IBM Food Trust to cut down on waste in their massive supply networks.
Forbes has reported that these first steps taken by the IBM Food Trust are set to be copied by a number of other, similar consortia. Not only has IBM been working with Maersk and other major shipping companies to roll out TradeLens, with a stated goal “to digitize the supply chain processes and reduce the paper transactions involved in processes like opening accounts, marine cargo insurance issuances and shipping instructions,” per Forbes, but other initiatives totally unrelated to IBM — such as the Global Shipping Business Network (GSBN), Open Trade Blockchain and Wave — have been gathering partner companies and preparing to set up operations. TradeLens became active in more than 80 ports and shipping hubs worldwide over the course of 2019, and Forbes claimed that these other companies are set to begin major initiatives in 2020.
The power of blockchain technology has been touted as an elegant and highly applicable solution to a number of inefficiencies in global supply chain networks for quite some time. Nevertheless, it seems that the transition from “good idea” or “proof-of-concept” to a routine feature of basic operations in a number of titanic companies is only just beginning. With the blockchain technology first cooked up by IBM’s engineers being put to use from farms, to shipping hubs and retail locations as ubiquitous as Walmart, the space for distributed ledger technology seems poised to take off in a big way. If anything, the rise of these other, unaffiliated blockchain consortia should show that there are real market forces afraid to miss out on a cut of the upcoming action.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.