It’s no secret that consumers have become savvier about reading nutrition labels before purchasing packaged food products, but the demand for information has not stopped there. The question around labeling for genetically modified organisms (GMO) has become a political hot-topic, and the sustainability impacts of ingredient sourcing have also become newsworthy. Those are only two examples out of many questions consumers have begun asking about their food as they look to become “more socially, environmentally, and nutritionally conscious of their purchases.” 
This challenge will require unprecedented transparency from big food companies, like Hershey, to earn back the trust of skeptical consumers. These companies are finding that they cannot combat this mistrust with marketing campaigns alone; rather, they need to open up about their supply chains more publicly than ever before.  In fact, research has shown that honesty is the most important quality consumers demand from large brands and thus a key factor driving buying behavior.  Enter: SmartLabel, a platform developed and launched in 2015 by Hershey in partnership with the Grocery Manufacturers Association.  It is the first major step towards digitalization of the food supply chain, putting nutrition, ingredient, allergen, and third-party certifications at consumers’ fingertips through the simple scan of a QR code or online search (example).  Hershey has committed to provide SmartLabel information for its entire portfolio by the end of 2017 and add the physical QR code to all packaging by the end of 2018. 
Although a good first step, simply adding more detailed information about the ingredient deck and GMO disclosure is not enough to satisfy customers’ desires to understand where their food is coming from. Again, Hershey is at the forefront of introducing new technology. It recently announced a pilot with Sourcemap, an interactive tool that allows people to trace an ingredient’s sourcing journey from the farm and learn about sustainability projects currently underway. Although only two products are currently available on Sourcemap (example), Hershey plans to utilize customer feedback on this pilot to roll-out the concept to other brands in their portfolio in the coming years – particularly with other non-chocolate confections to create differentiation between the maps. 
This improved transparency of the entire upstream portion of the supply chain will require more careful management of suppliers. As Hershey continues to pull back the curtain on its sourcing, it needs to ensure it is only partnering with suppliers whose practices it can defend. Hershey needs to focus not only on the technology that enables transparency, but also on the supplier relationship management required to maintain a network it is proud to be so open about.
Sourcemap gets the consumer one step closer to understanding the origins of her chocolate bar, but it is still only generalized information. Is it possible to track what went into the exact chocolate bar in her hand? IBM has recently announced a partnership with several large food companies (not Hershey) and retailers to begin tackling this question through blockchain technology.  It would enable all members of the supply chain – from grower to producer, distributor, retailer, and ultimately consumer – to trace the specific inputs of a product all the way from farm to shelf  and create a reliable source that contains all this information in one place. This type of solution is still in development and will likely not greatly impact the food supply chain in the near term, but the potential for enabling radical transparency is huge.  For that reason, I believe that Hershey, as a champion for the advancement of traceability in this industry, should find a way to be involved in the learning and development process and join this partnership with IBM.
Incorporating blockchain technology into the food supply chain would result in more benefits than consumer transparency. Perhaps the most impactful change would be on food safety and the ability to accurately and quickly trace the source of food contamination during a recall. A tracing process that currently takes weeks could be done in seconds and result in less food waste and a smaller economic impact compared to the overly-conservative recalls we currently see due to lack of accurate information. The broad participation in blockchain development for food also indicates that stakeholders throughout the supply chain see this as a shared responsibility – to collaborate to improve food safety – not as a competitive advantage. 
All this change in the digital traceability of the food supply chain still leaves big questions unanswered:
How can a brand leverage industry-wide technology, such as Sourcemap or blockchain, in a way that creates competitive advantage?
How does this type of technology change the balance of power between Big Food and smaller start-ups who currently have the advantage of consumers’ trust? Does this transparency “level the playing field” or are there still other major barriers to consumer trust needing to be broken down?
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 Source: Wilkinson, Dan, “How SmartLabel Delivers Product Transparency To Build Consumer Trust,” Food Manufacturing, 2 October 2017, ABI/INFORM via ProQuest, accessed November 2017.
 Source: Charles, Dan, “Can Big Food Win Friends By Revealing Its Secrets?,” NPR: All Things Considered, 25 December 2015, via Factiva, accessed November 2017.
 Source: Driggs, Joan, “SmartLabel brings transparency to CPGs,” Retail Leader, 20 January 2016, via Factiva, accessed November 2017.
 Source: “New Hershey Commitments Expand Efforts to Help Consumers Make Informed and Smart Snack Choices,” Food Manufacturing, 24 April 2017, ABI/INFORM via ProQuest, accessed November 2017.
 Source: Turcsik, Richard, “Straight from the Sourcemap.(Trade/talk),” Grocery Headquarters, 1 July 2017, via Factiva, accessed November 2017.
 Source: “IBM Announces Major Blockchain Collaboration with Dole, Driscoll’s, Golden State Foods, Kroger, McCormick and Company, McLane Company, Nestlé, Tyson Foods, Unilever and Walmart to Address Food Safety Worldwide,” PR Newswire Europe Including UK Disclose, 22 August 2017, ABI/INFORM via ProQuest, accessed November 2017.
 Source: O’Marah, Kevin, “Blockchain: Enormous Potential Demands Your Attention,” Supply Chain Digital, 14 March 2017, via Factiva, accessed November 2017.