Building consumer trust: Wholechain pilots blockchain traceability tech

The journey of the Fair Trade USA-certified shrimp harvested from Altata Bay in Mexico to Portland, Oregon, U.S.A. is tracked and documented using one of the most cutting-edge traceability technologies: blockchain.

Part of a pilot project between Fair Trade USA and blockchain solution provider Wholechain, the Del Pacifico-distributed shrimp in the frozen section of New Seasons Market demonstrate the promise of blockchain to ensure full transparency for a seafood sector rife with obscure supply chains and, sometimes, fraud.

The project also shows the potential for blockchain to build trust between seafood producers and consumers, and for traceability technologies to be a vehicle that carries the story of seafood to buyers.

"Consumers more and more are demanding to know the provenance of the products they buy," Fair Trade USA Seafood Director Julie Kuchepatov told SeafoodSource. "I think there's a lot of trust that people put in to retailers or the retail outlets they buy from, and there's a lot of loyalty."

Fair Trade USA certifies some 30 different categories, including coffee, tea, and other agricultural products. Five years ago, the organization started certifying wild-capture fisheries, and has certified about 10 fisheries so far, including producers of Alaska salmon, New England scallops, yellowfin tuna, and the Mexican shrimp. Recently, Fair Trade USA launched a pilot project to certify aquaculture products, in partnership with the Aquaculture Stewardship Council.

Fair Trade’s process generates Community Development Funds, a portion of which producers must use on environmental projects such as data for fisheries monitoring or beach cleanups. In the last five years, seafood producers have generated USD 1.5 million (EUR 1.3 million). Product traceability is vital for tracking and allocating these funds. The type of electronic ledger generated by Wholechain’s blockchain technology allows Fair Trade and players at all stages in the supply chain to be confident about the validity of the data. 

"Chain of custody has to be implemented and we have to make sure there's not illegal fish entering the fair trade supply chain," Kuchepatov said.

Wholechain’s traceability technology has a robust back-end that integrates with Mastercard’s blockchain system. The two companies are part of a project with Topco Associates, a U.S. food cooperative, to use the traceability system so that supermarkets in the co-op can document the origin of the seafood in their stores. The project will provide insights into the ethical sourcing of salmon, cod, and shrimp, and their compliance with environmental standards.

In addition, Northline Seafoods, a Bristol Bay salmon processor, used Wholechain to trace 1 million pounds of Alaska sockeye salmon this year, according to Wholechain CEO Jayson Berryhill.

Wholechain’s blockchain technology provides an immutable record of transactions along the supply chain from producer to seller. The company was recently selected as a top company at Fish 2.0’s Global Innovators Forum. On top of the dense technical components, Wholechain offers a user-friendly interface. 

"The way we use blockchain, it's very much in the background. For the user experience we really try to make it unseen," Berryhill told SeafoodSource. "The seafood industry can't feel like they're hiring NASA to do seafood traceability. It's just not going to work. So that's part of the innovation – to make it really user-friendly."

Any traceability solution has to overcome the challenging first-mile conditions of the seafood industry, where workers might be offloading thousands of pounds of salmon from a vessel while wearing heavy-duty gloves, and inputting data on data on mobile devices, Berryhill said. And while products in some industries – such as pharmaceuticals – are essentially born with a barcode attached, seafood products aren’t so easily labeled. Wholechain excels in those kinds of conditions, according to Berryhill. 

"What Wholechain is good for is some of the more challenging supply chains like agricultural use cases, things where the products don't originate with a barcode," Berryhill said. “How do we make data sharing super easy for supply chain actors so they can establish rails of traceability?"

Wholechain aims to be relevant to every actor along the supply chain, and the company is working on making it easy to integrate with other platforms such as warehouse management systems.

The immutability of the blockchain record deters bad actors, but Berryhill chooses to focus on the ways that transparency can drive positive change. Consumers trust restaurants, seafood brands, grocers, and retailers, and they want to know that these companies have done the due diligence to make sure products come from sustainable, slavery-free sources. 

"The better way to create more change is to highlight the good actors. And that's a good business proposition because the good actors want to use our product,” Berryhill said. “By people being transparent, it builds trust."

Logo courtesy of Wholechain  


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