Walmart to deploy blockchain to track supply of fresh greens

September 25, 2018
Chris Wheal

Walmart, the world’s biggest supermarket chain, is to use blockchain in conjunction with a number of its suppliers to enable end-to-end traceability on the supply of much of its fresh produce.

The initiative, which follows an incident earlier this year when hundreds of people became ill after eating E.coli-infected romaine lettuce, will involve Walmart and its greens suppliers recording their transactions on blockchain.

Open letter

In an open letter to its suppliers, Walmart and its Sam’s Club subsidiary asked them to trace their products all the way back to the farm using the distributed ledger technology and expect to have the system in place by this time next year, said Matt Smith, Walmart’s communications officer.

Customers and grocers in the US were forced to throw away tons of romaine lettuces after the E.coli contamination was discovered.

Hundreds of people fell ill after eating E.coli infected lettuce

While health officials managed to narrow the supply chain down to a farm in Yuma, Arizona, it was difficult for consumers to know how to determine where their lettuce was grown, said Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart.

“None of the bags of salad had ‘Yuma, Arizona’ on them,” he added.

Difficulty in tracking

And because the world’s biggest grocer must use hundreds of suppliers it could take up to seven days to trace the tainted produce through the traditional trail of paper-based ledgers.

Yiannas (left) continued: “In the future, using the technology we’re requiring, a customer could potentially scan a bag of salad and know with certainty where it came from.”

Walmart has been putting a lot of weight behind the potential capabilities of blockchain technology this year. It has filed several patents for systems to simplify procedures throughout the supply chain: from the origin of goods to their delivery.

Partnering with IBM

On this project the company has been working with blockchain innovator IBM and under the mandate set by Walmart to its suppliers, more than 100 companies will be required to use IBM’s blockchain to record the movement of their produce.

IBM is currently working on similar food-safety projects with several other companies, including Britain’s Unilever.

“When it comes to safety, this is not a competitive issue. We all win or lose together,” concluded Yiannas.

Post written by Chris Wheal
Chris Wheal is editor of OpenLedger's news and features service. An award-wining business journalists himself, he runs a team of freelance journalists from across the UK and north America.

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