Blockchain chicken sells better than non-blockchain chicken
"We had a positive impact on the chicken versus the non-blockchain chicken."
"The pomelo sold faster than the year before due to blockchain," said Carrefour blockchain project manager Emmanuel Delerm to Reuters. "We had a positive impact on the chicken versus the non-blockchain chicken."
He's referring to Carrefour's use of the IBM Food Trust blockchain food tracking system.
Different things to different people
For the end user – the customer who takes the food off the shelf – the IBM Food Trust blockchain is a QR code that can be scanned to show the provenance of goods, including the origins of the product they're about to buy as well as additional information such as the date of harvest, the farmer it came from, how long it took to ship and some additional tips on how to prepare it.
For logistics services and retailers, it's an extremely useful and potentially life-saving way of tracking goods through the supply chain, and it's also a boon to sales it would appear.
The proof is in the pudding
According to Carrefour, customers are responding to the blockchain chicken and are scanning their food for the extra information. This has always been something of an unproven question mark around these kinds of systems, so the fact that consumers are actually using the system, and that it's influencing their purchasing decisions, is a nice addition to the existing evidence.
But if you cast an eye over the countries where the system is popular, it's easy to appreciate that circumstances on the ground would affect how widely used the system is in different countries.
The initiative is most popular in China, Reuters says. This is probably in part because of residents' very real concerns over where their goods are coming from (and what their lead content is) and also because QR codes are very widely used in China. Making QR code payments and scanning things for more information is already second nature.
Scanning goods was second and third most popular in Italy and Carrefour's home turf of France, and people are spending as long as 90 seconds reading the provenance information for goods, and even viewing related videos.
But it's safe to say that not everyone will go for this kind of thing, and that the uptake rates for this system will probably vary widely by country. This is likely to change over time though.
"Millennials are buying less but buying better products for their health, for the planet," Delerm pointed out.
In addition, customers don't need to scan every item every time for the store to reap the benefits.
"You are building a halo effect – 'If I can trust Carrefour with this chicken, I can also trust Carrefour for their apples or cheese'," Delerm explained.
The goal down the line is for Carrefour to add non-food items to the list in the future as well as add additional information such as how much of the money from the purchase will go to the farmer. It's also experimenting with non-QR code formats for communicating the information, but in this case it might almost be easier to get people using QR codes than to find an alternative.
Why all the blockchain?
It's safe to say the blockchaininess of this system is not adding any significant degree of trust for the consumer standing in front of the QR code, and that most are making no assumptions one way or the other on whether the data they're getting is reliable or whether it needs to be on a blockchain.
In this case, the blockchain may be more for the benefit of all the other mutually untrusting participants in that supply chain.
Even the most ethical and eco-conscious brands have limited oversight on where exactly their goods are coming and how much slave labour may be involved in the creation of their products, so a tamper-proof ledger is a necessity there.
And while it's a little trickier to prevent unscrupulous suppliers or other parties from tampering with the data inputs, it's possible to make the data inputs tamper-proof beyond a reasonable doubt. You also need some neutral digital ground for all these entities to share data, where no one can put their fingers on the scales. Blockchain offers that neutral ground, although in this case it requires trusting IBM.
There's also the versatility and potential future-proofing a blockchain could offer. In IBM's own experience, businesses are starting to think more about building entire blockchain ecosystems rather than just pointing a blockchain at a single problem and pulling the trigger.
And if the customers like it, why not?
Disclosure: The author holds BTC, BNB, ATOM and IOTA at the time of writing.