It seems like every week there is a new food scare. Each time, grocers like Walmart pull all related products out of the shelves: “Guilty until proven innocent” according to Frank Yiannas, President of Food Safety at Walmart . Only after the implicated product is found will the safe products be put back. This requires tracing back the exact origin of the food and each touch point in the supply chain. For a cup of cut mangos, that took 6.5 days. By which time a lot of the pulled food will have spoiled, and consumers have lost trust in the grocer and the product.
A solution in sight
As a solution to this Walmart and IBM are working together using Blockchain software called IBM Food Trust. According to IBM: “The solution provides authorized users with immediate access to actionable food supply chain data, from farm to store and ultimately the consumer. The complete history and current location of any food item along with its accompanying information (i.e. certifications, test data, temperature data) can be readily available in seconds.” . The way it works is that each member organization of the supply chain has a ledger with their transaction information on the blockchain network. When a piece of permissioned information is entered into the chain, other computers in the network are notified, thereby keeping a single “true” record and making falsifying information extremely hard to do.
This will allow Walmart to track food in seconds rather than in days. This plays into two key strategies Walmart is pursuing: bolstering its digital savvy and emphasizing the quality of its fresh food to customers.  Critics have wondered whether this is anything more than a PR move to play into the hype surrounding blockchain, but Yiannas points out, the food system is absolutely too large for a single entity to track, but blockchain changes everything.
In the short term, Walmart will be working hard to try and convince different suppliers to join the Blockchain network. By Sep 2019, Walmart will require more than 100 farms that supply leafy green vegetables to input detailed information about their food.  Once the organizations are on the network, which Walmart expects will take a couple of years, further steps can be taken to fully leverage all the combined data. Including reducing food waste by tracking food freshness and start extrapolating which produce traits do well or poorly in the supply chain, which in turn can inform the grower of which breed of produce they should plant. It will also allow them to track if food items underwent the required safety processing (like washing) and whether a food item is truly organic. Further applications could be for inventory management, international shipping, customs processes, etc. It would open a lot of possibilities.
Trust is the key
Walmart and IBM claim that this will bring back customers’ trust in the food system, but Walmart will also have to convince suppliers to trust it. While Blockchain can lead to increased food safety, it also leads to an enormous amount of new information which Walmart previously did not have access too. At least not in a format it could do anything with.
Walmart started the blockchain roll out by requiring all leafy green vegetables [see above]. I think the real danger is that suppliers might fear Walmart and IBM over the power this transparency into the supply chain will give them. Having your end customer know where all your supply comes from might make you fear that your customer might cut you out completely. Or that they might use this to squeeze your margins.
I would strongly advise Walmart to first try and convince as many suppliers to join the blockchain network before it starts requiring organizations to do so. I also think it would be smart to put some controls in place with regulators or trade organizations, providing evidence that Walmart is not doing this to squeeze every last penny of margin out of the supply chain. IBM has already been facing issues like this and in response has made the software open source. 
This network while providing larger food security and reduce food wastage, will also give Walmart full transparency into its supply chain. Should we, the customers, be concerned about this? Should suppliers to Walmart be concerned about this? What could Walmart do to soothe those concerns?
To what extend is it viable to bring every single supplier on this network? What are the technical and physical challenges Walmart, IBM and the suppliers will have to overcome?
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 Popper, N. and Lohr, S. (2018). Blockchain: A Better Way to Track Pork Chops, Bonds, Bad Peanut Butter?. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/04/business/dealbook/blockchain-ibm-bitcoin.html?module=inline [Accessed 12 Nov. 2018].
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 News.walmart.com. (2018). In Wake of Romaine E. coli Scare, Walmart Deploys Blockchain to Track Leafy Greens. [online] Available at: https://news.walmart.com/2018/09/24/in-wake-of-romaine-e-coli-scare-walmart-deploys-blockchain-to-track-leafy-greens [Accessed 12 Nov. 2018].