As the lock down restrictions in many parts of the US, Australia and the UK begin to ease, people will no doubt be keen, once again, to pay a visit to their favourite restaurant, pub, or local bar. In the last year your local hostelry has possibly had a lick of paint, whilst the food industry has witnessed unprecedented investment into non-animal-based alternatives as people increasingly focus on not eating meat. Indeed, in the US, Food Dive has reported that the numbers of people eating meat fell from 85% in 2019, to 71% in 2020. Furthermore, the Good Food Institute has reported that investment in the alternative meat market rose threefold in 2020 to a record high of $3.1 billion, stating: “Companies focused on plant meats, eggs, and dairy (as opposed to fermentation and cell-based-meat ventures) accounted for the lion’s share of that windfall, taking in three times the amount of capital they raised in 2019”.
This change in eating habits is set to continue, according to Boston Consulting Group and Blue Horizon Corporation, with their prediction that the demand for ‘alt-meat dining’ would comprise 11 percent of the protein market by 2035 - climbing to 97 million metric tons annually, from the mere 13 million that is now. One of the challenges restaurants and food suppliers face is how to prove to customers that the food they serve is what it is claimed to be on the menu, whether this be where the food has been sourced, ‘local organic vegetables’, or how livestock has been treated and reared. According to Paymentsense’s report, 66% of the population now believe that ethical considerations matter when choosing where to eat, with 36% of people looking for locally sourced ingredients when eating out.
The connected food chain
If restaurants and shops are able to generate better trust regarding what they sell, then this is likely to lead to greater loyalty and increased business. But the key is, how to generate more trust based on facts, as opposed to shallow advertising slogans and marketing spin? Well, as beforementioned, the facts as to how, where and when the food sold in the shops or served in a restaurant is grown or reared, and how sustainably produced it is, is all eminently possible using simple QR codes and Blockchain technology. With a quick scan using a mobile phone customers are able to gain a detailed insight to the provenance of the food they are about to consume.
In an article in Food Engineering Mag.com, Herain Oberoi, General Manager of database, analytics and Blockchain marketing at Amazon Web Services (AWS), believes: “The lack of data compatibility exposes supply chains to problems like visibility gaps, inaccurate supply and demand predictions, manual errors, counterfeiting and compliance violations. This is where blockchain can allow organizations to gain real-time, end-to-end visibility into their supply chains. Transactions are always time-stamped and up to date, so companies can query a product’s status and location at any point in time”. Nestlé Australia Ltd is one of AWS’s clients which uses Blockchain technology for its ‘Chain of Origin’ coffee brand. Armin Nehzat, digital technology manager at Nestlé Australia Ltd., asserts that the following characteristics of Blockchain help to ensure that the company delivers on its mission. “The combination of these blockchain characteristics is what helps us better collaborate with our suppliers and ultimately connect consumers with the provenance of their products”:
Transparent - members on the blockchain network can see everyone’s activities whereby ensuring everyone is held accountable to their deliverables.
Verifiable - as the product moves across the supply chain, participants can verify each other’s activities and raise alarms when needed.
Immutable - once an update is made on the network, it cannot be changed. This means that users can always go back and audit activities to detect anomalies and learn from their mistakes.
There are many Blockchain-powered platforms offering solutions in the food supply industry for retailers and restaurants which, in effect, makes it easier to ‘plug and play’ as opposed to restaurants and/or shops selling food having to create their own bespoke solution. Meanwhile, one of the current challenges is the cost of transactions due to the gas fees on the Ethereum Blockchain, but there does exist a host of other Blockchains that organisations can use instead…..