A survey from Juniper Research in the UK shows that blockchain technology is expected to enable $31 billion in food fraud savings globally by 2024 by tracking food immutably across the supply chain.

The study goes on to suggest that blockchain technology will be driven by IoT partnerships. This includes IBM’s Food Trust and Watson platforms, SAP’s Track and Trace and Leonardo platforms, as well as Oracle’s Track and Trace and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions. According to Dr. Morgane Kimmich, the report’s author, “Transparency and efficiency in the food supply chain are limited by opaque data, forcing each company to rely on intermediaries and paper-based records. Blockchain and the IoT provide an immutable, shared platform for all actors in the supply chain to track-and-trace assets, saving time and resources—and reducing fraud.”

U.S. Behind Europe in Technology Adoption?

With its headquarters in Oslo, Norway, a relatively new blockchain technology provider, UNISOT, offers a solution designed to meet new European legal and ethical requirements—compliance with the EC Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence rules, the Digital Product Passport (DPP) and the EC Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation. UNISOT is powered by nChain blockchain technology.1

“We felt the time was right to offer a blockchain solution to the food industry to help them verify products entering the consumer market,” says UNISOT’s cofounder, Stephan Nilsson. “Food suppliers need to demonstrate transparency across the global supply chain, via a standardized system to track and authenticate products. Manufacturers and consumers have been demanding this for years, with the DPP facilitating the ability to simply scan a label and view data via the application.”

While Europe seems to be moving ahead with blockchain technology in the food industry, it appears as though interest has slowed in the U.S. since the excitement around the highly successful and publicized project that was piloted by IBM and Walmart in 2017. At the time of writing this article, searches on FDA’s website for blockchain brought up only five items with the most recent, a webinar dated April 4, 2022 related to FDA’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety.

FDA is not playing favorites to blockchain technology. In a Q&A that followed the April webinar, FDA was asked whether it would support any specific track-and-trace platforms or blockchain technologies. It responded, “FDA is supporting the voluntary adoption of traceability tools but will remain technology agnostic. The agency’s focus is on ensuring that traceability platforms be harmonized and interoperable to support the goal of end-to-end traceability.”

According to a report given by McKinsey & Company at an FDA “New Era for Food Safety” public meeting, blockchain-enabled traceability solutions could reduce food loss by 1%-2%, but food companies are significantly behind other industry sectors when adopting technology innovations due to the complexities of food and beverage supply chains. The loss of transparency along supply chains has resulted in a loss of consumer trust, and this is an area where blockchain could help restore that trust, says the report.

Definition of blockchain
A blockchain is a distributed database that links blocks of data and is operated by a network of anonymous peers. These blocks are timestamped and stored in a linear and chronological order. Each block contains a set of data, a timestamp and a hash of the previous block. A two-step validation process consists of validating the data inside the block, then all peers agree on the previous validated data. Image courtesy of National Institute of Standards and Technology

Current State of Blockchain Technology

“The implementation and adoption of blockchain technologies in the food and beverage industry are still in the early stages, but there is growing interest and potential for its use,” says Kathy Barbeire, CAT Squared senior marketing manager. In 2019, CAT Squared became an onboarding partner with IBM Food Trust, IBM’s blockchain technology platform. “Blockchain technology offers benefits such as enhanced traceability, transparency and trust in the supply chain. It can help track and verify the origin, quality, and safety of food products, which is particularly important in addressing issues like food fraud and contamination.”

Food processors are aware of many traceability solutions including blockchain, says Barbeire. “Several companies are actively seeking out these solutions; though, it tends to be in response to regulatory action. We’ve received significant interest in traceability technology from companies regulated by the FDA since new traceability requirements became effective in January 2023.”

Food companies in the know are aware of the advantages that blockchain technology can offer, particularly in terms of track-and-trace capabilities, says Paul Damaren, RizePoint executive vice president, business development. By utilizing blockchain, companies can create an accurate and transparent record of every step in the supply chain from the farm to the consumer. This level of transparency allows for increased consumer trust and confidence in the products they purchase. Additionally, blockchain can help streamline supply chain processes, reduce inefficiencies and minimize the risk of foodborne illnesses or contamination.

However, there are apparently several reasons why blockchain technology has been seemingly slow to develop in the U.S. For example, many food companies are still in the process of understanding and exploring its potential benefits, says Francine L. Shaw, cofounder of My Food Source. While the technology has many advantages for users, such as track and trace, food fraud prevention and stopping cargo theft, there are challenges yet remaining in implementation.

“One major hurdle involves the collection and registration of necessary information,” says Shaw. “The data required for blockchain integration is often scattered across various systems, making it difficult to effectively capture and integrate into the blockchain.”

Another hurdle: Many stakeholders in the food and beverage industry may not fully understand the significance and functionality of blockchain technology. Therefore, providing training and guidance on how to capture, register and transmit relevant information to the blockchain is crucial for successful implementation, adds Shaw.

“Adoption is still quite slow and primarily driven by grocery retailers,” says Marcel Koks, Infor industry & solution strategy director food & beverage. However, there are also applications of blockchain aimed at paying a fair price to growers by providing provenance information to the consumer about a commodity such as cacao or coffee. As such, these become trusted brands for which some consumers are willing to pay a price premium.

“Adoption is still quite slow and primarily driven by grocery retailers,” says Marcel Koks, Infor industry & solution strategy director food & beverage. However, there are also applications of blockchain aimed at paying a fair price to growers by providing provenance information to the consumer about a commodity such as cacao or coffee. As such, these become trusted brands for which some consumers are willing to pay a price premium.

T.J. Gupta, cofounder and CEO of TagOne, a blockchain solutions provider, points out that one of blockchain’s real advantages, however, can be a detractor for some. That has to do with immutability. “The critical bottleneck seems operational, with blockchain demanding advanced operational discipline and needing companies to enter data right the first time,” says Gupta.

“The fantastic business value—associated with blockchain around immutability, trust and others—is all based on the premise that: a) Companies have the data needed to drive these business impacts, and b) They have the personnel and operational discipline to enter this data right, the first time every time,” says Gupta. “But why is there a need for such crazy discipline, you may ask? The reason for this is simple. The blockchain model is unforgiving when it comes to bad data, and as a food operator, once you enter data wrong and publish it to the blockchain, this incorrect data will stay there for life. Even if you go and change it later in your system and post this entry again, the first data set will not disappear, and records will clearly show that the operator wrote over it. Well, isn’t data immutability the whole point?”

Blockchain data is immutable
Think of blockchain data as a series of interlocking data blocks or cubes added on as new data is entered at each point (with a timestamp) in the process/supply chain, all dependent on one another and immutable. Only data can be added, but not taken away. Image courtesy of Wayne Labs

Who Is/Has Using/Used Blockchain Technology To Date?

Scott Haskell, PhD/DVM, pointed out in a Michigan State University article published online that five companies in the food industry are now either using blockchain technology or putting it through its paces to see if it’s right for them. They include Bumble Bee Foods (recording its tuna operations), Nestlé (traceability for its Rainforest Alliance certified coffee brand, Zoégas), Walmart (worked with IBM and covered extensively in FE), Tyson Foods (partnering with FoodLogiQ on a food safety pilot in tracking from farms to production facilities) and KraftHeinz (children’s food division).2

I asked our interviewees if they knew of anyone else testing or using blockchain technology platforms. Infor’s Koks named retailers Albertsons, Albert Heijn and Carrefour. “Manufacturers adopting blockchain for providing provenance information to consumers typically have high value product with one key ingredient, such as meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, chocolate and coffee. Some whisky brands use blockchain to protect their brands against fake bottles on the market.”

“Carrefour and Albertsons have been actively utilizing blockchain for traceability and supply chain management,” says RizePoint’s Damaren. “Carrefour has implemented blockchain for products like milk and poultry, while Albertsons has focused on the traceability of lettuce and other fresh produce.”

Bühler, a Swiss technology company, has partnered with startups to develop blockchain solutions for tracking ingredients in the food industry, adds Damaren. These initiatives aim to enhance supply chain transparency and enable companies to respond quickly in the event of product recalls or contamination.

JD.com, a Chinese e-commerce giant, has implemented blockchain technology to track the entire supply chain of its premium meat products, including beef and pork, says My Food Source’s Shaw. Consumers can scan QR codes on the packaging to access detailed information about the products. “It is important to mention that, currently, blockchain technology is primarily implemented in distributors, without extending to the rest of the chain, namely the small- and medium-sized suppliers,” adds Shaw.

The challenge is turning pilot operations into full-time use, according to TagOne’s Gupta. “Most companies on Haskell’s list implemented only a pilot and not across big business lines. We have similarly done a few pilots with smaller companies, which were finally not moved to a bigger production scale.”

Tamper-proof transmission and traceable
The security system better known for underpinning Bitcoin and other digital currencies not only provides tamper-proof transmission of manufacturing data, it also yields something just as valuable to its users—traceability of that data to all participants in the production process. Diagram courtesy N. Hanacek/NIST

Blockchain, Governments and Standards Organizations

Big drivers for multi-enterprise track and trace and transparency are regulations such as FSMA 204 (Requirements for Additional Traceability Records for Certain Foods) in the U.S.3, and the Digital Product Passport (DPP) in the European Union, says Koks. “To comply, you need to be digital, but the FDA and EU are not prescribing technology such as blockchain. Blockchain has a big benefit compared to other technologies. The more upstream a business is in the food supply chain, the more parties and different track-and-trace platforms the business must share data. True blockchain would provide farmers and suppliers with distributed ledgers from which they can share data with any of their customers. So, instead of handing over data and building interfaces to many different track-and-trace platforms that are often prescribed by the retailers, the farmers and suppliers could own their data and have one single solution to share data from.”

“Standards organizations like GS1 are neutral about blockchain and have focused on encouraging the use of their existing standards irrespective of whether companies choose to store their data in blockchains rather than traditional databases,” says TagOne’s Gupta. “They have aimed to continue helping companies focus on standardized identification and data structures that they believe will be critical to the ability of enterprises to share data efficiently and effectively.”

Similarly, as part of the New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint, the FDA proposed technology and “tech-enabled traceability” as the first pillar for success, adds Gupta. “The blockchain term has been used thrice in the 20-page blueprint document. However, the FDA has not explicitly proposed the use of blockchain technology, and it has only been used suggestively with other new technologies like artificial intelligence, the internet of things, etc.”

“It is expected that blockchain technology requirements will be largely driven by retailers, as they play a crucial role in the supply chain and have a vested interest in maintaining consumer trust and confidence,” says Damaren. However, collaboration among retailers, suppliers, regulatory agencies and technology providers will be necessary to establish industry-wide standards and achieve widespread adoption.

Government/Organizations and Blockchain Technology

Many organizations and government agencies around the world have recognized the potential of blockchain technology in various industries, including the retail sector. They include: 

1. GS1: GS1 is a global standards organization that develops and maintains standards for supply chain and business operations. They have been exploring the use of blockchain technology to enhance traceability and improve supply chain efficiency.

2. FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration): The FDA has been exploring blockchain as a potential tool to improve the safety and security of the food and pharmaceutical supply chains. When FDA published a webinar on the first 100 days of its New Era of Smarter Food Safety, blockchain was missing from the discussion. The FDA said it is “working to build a platform to rapidly receive electronic traceability data.” It is not clear whether this platform will utilize blockchain.

3. USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture): The USDA has shown interest in blockchain technology to improve traceability and transparency in the agricultural sector. They have explored projects related to the certification of organic products and supply chain management. Beefchain is the first blockchain solution approved by the USDA under its Process Verified Program (PVP).

4. CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency): The CFIA has been examining the use of blockchain to enhance traceability and food safety in Canada. They have explored blockchain pilot projects in collaboration with industry stakeholders.

5. EFSA (European Food Safety Authority): The European Food Safety Authority supports the Food Safety Market (FSM) program with trace labs to facilitate blockchain adoption.

As blockchain technology progresses, the requirements for its implementation are likely to be driven by a combination of retailers, government agencies, standards organizations, and other industry stakeholders. Collaboration among these entities will be crucial in defining the standards, best practices and regulatory frameworks needed for successful blockchain implementation.

Francine L. Shaw, Cofounder, My Food Source

Software/Tech Companies Consider Blockchain Opportunities

In the realm of blockchain technology, many software providers are actively developing solutions for the food and beverage industry in light of the FDA’s FSMA 204 rule, which was passed into law on November 7th, 2022, says Damaren. “These solutions encompass various aspects such as traceability, supply chain management and product authentication.”

“GS1’s standards play a crucial role in ensuring interoperability and data consistency across the supply chain,” adds Damaren. “Compliance with GS1 standards can facilitate seamless integration between blockchain systems and other software solutions. Consequently, software providers should consider GS1’s standards as a reference to achieve consistency and compatibility within the industry.”

For ERP system providers, blockchain technology is certainly a consideration as it has the potential to revolutionize supply chain management, says Damaren. While not all ERP solutions currently embed blockchain technology, there is a growing recognition of its value. As blockchain technology matures and gains wider adoption, it is likely to become an integral part of ERP solutions, enabling end-to-end visibility and data integrity throughout the supply chain.

Earlier, I mentioned that CAT Squared became an onboarding partner with IBM Food Trust. CAT Squared’s manufacturing platform collects processing data from the plant floor (critical tracking events, quality incidents, product attributes, compliance documentation and supplier data), and this data is moved to IBM’s Food Trust via an API to achieve end-to-end traceability through the supply chain.

But, like other solution providers, CAT Squared also provides non-blockchain applications. “CAT Squared’s FoodTrace solution is a GS1- and EPCIS-based event repository that enables the asynchronous capture of critical supply chain tracking events occurring on the farm, to processors and distributors—and all the way to retail consumers,” says Barbeire. “Our FoodTrace MESH application takes this further and allows for the sharing of data across supply chain players, enhancing demand, supply, and capacity planning and synchronization.”

According to Koks, the GS1 Global Traceability Standard and FSMA 204 have been drivers to explore ways to integrate blockchain solutions with Infor’s ERP to achieve multi-enterprise track-and-trace transparency for its key clients in food and beverage.

Like CAT Squared, TagOne (originally blockchain only) has expanded its offerings, says Gupta. “The TagOne solution suite in its earlier releases (starting in 2021) was already available with the blockchain option, that is, our solution has been fully developed and tested with blockchain (Hyperledger). After a few industry pilots, we have decided to keep our blockchain-based solution as an optional offering, available on request with separate pricing compared to our standard offering. The solution is fully compliant with GS1, and in fact, we are also a GS1 co-innovation partner and play a key role with GS1 to continue driving GS1 adoption across industries.”

Ensuring a product isn’t counterfeit
Do you trust your supplier that the sherry you ordered from Spain is the actual product you received? Today, a blockchain powered database could show and authenticate the original vineyards that produced the sherry plus all the agents and distributors in between until the time it arrived at your establishment. Photo courtesy of Wayne Labs

Looking Ahead

Blockchain technology has a lot to offer “under the hood” for track and trace, food safety and quality, ERP and inventory systems, logistics, and more. Governing bodies and standards organizations, plus new technologies like AI/ML and IoT, can play key roles in furthering the use of blockchain, which most likely will serve as an underlying technology and will focus on consumer protection, according to Shaw. Other areas carrying over from cryptocurrencies include anti-money laundering (AML) and Know Your Customer (KYC) compliance plus cross-border collaboration.

Blockchain technology transcends national boundaries, and governments may collaborate to address challenges related to international regulations, taxation, and jurisdictional issues, adds Shaw.

Koks suggests that blockchain technology will work behind the scenes as a vehicle to ensure the quality of data and avoid broken trace links. Artificial intelligence and robotic process automation can automate the correction of supply chain events. Preventing wrong data—or worse, fraud—is even more important when implementing multi-enterprise track and trace and transparency all the way from farm to fork as there are many parties in the supply chain. Artificial intelligence can help to avoid and detect these incidents.

For blockchain technologies to gain industry-wide acceptance, one critical thing that needs to be worked out first is strong industry standards that can drive system interoperability, says TagOne’s Gupta. That is an essential requirement for industry-wide blockchains. And these standards can only be conducted by respected and well-accepted industry bodies. For example, in the pharmaceutical industry, the Healthcare Distribution Alliance (HDA) played a significant role in driving industry standards, ultimately leading to industry-wide traceability initiatives and implementation of major regulations like FDA’s DSCSA (Drug Supply Chain Security Act) in the U.S.

“Additionally, addressing the challenges faced by smaller food companies, such as the cost of hardware and systems investments, is essential for wider adoption,” says Damaren. Industry collaborations and initiatives can help provide accessible solutions that cater to the needs and capabilities of these companies.

“Because we are still in the era of food organizations using spreadsheets and rudimentary notes in many cases, the future will depend on whether we move beyond theory, understand the reality and apply it in practice,” says Shaw.

“As blockchain technology continues to evolve and mature, it will be crucial to monitor its scalability, security and regulatory compliance aspects,” adds Damaren. “Ongoing research and development efforts should focus on addressing these concerns to ensure that blockchain remains a reliable and trusted technology for the food and beverage industry.”

“The concept of blockchain technology could be promising, as it has the potential to revolutionize various industries and provide enhanced security, transparency and efficiency in many processes,” adds Shaw. “But it is difficult to predict the exact trajectory of blockchain. The concept is great, but it comes with challenges. For instance, it tends to be costly and difficult to implement, which helps explain why the process is moving so slowly.”

“As many have speculated, the food industry hasn’t fully embraced blockchain technology as of yet,” says Gupta. “And in our opinion, we don’t think it will enter mainstream usage across industries anytime in the next five years. This is not a comment on the shortcomings of blockchain technology, not at all. It’s a fantastic technology with great benefits. However, implementing blockchain-based applications is not easy. It requires a high degree of operational discipline, and we believe a big chunk of the food industry is not there yet. Having said that, we would be thrilled to be proved wrong. Only time will tell.”


[1]”UNISOT’s nChain Solution to End Food Fraud,” FE, April 2023

[2] “Blockchain Technology in the Food Industry,” Scott Haskell PhD/DVM, April 21, 2022, Michigan State University, Institute for Food Laws and Regulations, accessed 31 Aug., 2023

[3] “Food Industry Addresses U.S. FDA Requirements for Additional Traceability Records With New Guidance,” FE, March 2023

“Blockchain technology a solution for supply chain traceback issues,” FE, FEB. 2018

“Walmart, IBM and the Romaine Blockchain,” FE, June 2018

“Getting started with blockchain,” FE, December 2021

“Blockchain technology: Is it ready for prime time?” FE, January 2022

“Blockchain is the tracking method preferred by industry right now,” FE, April 2020