Wholechain’s Jayson Berryhill on the landscape of traceability in the seafood industry

Wholechain Co-Founder Jayson Berryhill
Wholechain Co-Founder Jayson Berryhill | Photo courtesy of Wholechain
8 Min

Wholechain is a blockchain-based traceability tool intended to enable visibility within global supply chains. It offers both open-source and permissioned blockchain options that align with major seafood traceability standards, such as the Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability standard. Originally developed for food and agriculture supply chains, Wholechain now works across industries with customers including Estée Lauder, McCormick, Chicken of the Sea, Topco Associates, and Wegmans Food Markets.

Jayson Berryhill is a co-founder of Wholechain and on the supervisory board for the GDST. In an interview with SeafoodSource, Berryhill discussed the drivers and barriers to the adoption of traceability in seafood.

SeafoodSource: How would you describe the adoption rates of traceability guidelines across the seafood industry?

Berryhill: The adoption of traceability in the seafood industry is rising due to regulatory and consumer demands. Regulatory pressures, especially from major buyers and retailers, are driving companies to prioritize transparency and accountability. 

Regulations like Rule 204 of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and the E.U. Deforestation Regulation set crucial traceability standards. Industry initiatives such as the GDST are also standardizing data practices, simplifying traceability implementation. As barriers to adoption decrease, more companies are seeking traceability solutions to comply with policies.

At Wholechain, we see growing demand from seafood companies aiming to meet evolving standards and become early adopters. This trend suggests standardized traceability is becoming the industry norm.

SeafoodSource: What are some drivers for traceability innovation that you are seeing at Wholechain and across the industry?

Berryhill: One major driver is the increase in digital capabilities, which makes implementing advanced solutions like traceability easier. For example, aquaculture is benefiting from technologies such as satellite monitoring, automatic feeders that gather data, digital farm management tools, enhancing data integration, visibility, and control throughout the production process.

Interoperability of traceability data is also crucial, as buyers demand detailed supply chain information. At Wholechain, we advocate for standards like EPCIS and GDST data standards, which facilitate interoperability – or seamless data exchange – with other systems, including warehouse management systems. 

Additionally, increasing regulations are pushing companies to invest in traceability technologies for compliance. As seafood companies recognize the value of traceability in improving transparency, efficiency, and sustainability, they are actively seeking digital traceability solutions.

SeafoodSource: What are the technology or cost barriers for adopting traceability standards, and how is the industry overcoming those challenges?

Berryhill: Technology and cost barriers to traceability adoption are diminishing due to standardization and enhanced interoperability. Without standards, issues arise, as seen with pen-and-paper traceability. This form of traceability exists in many industries and presents a variety of challenges – not to mention the mere risk of relying on paper documentation in a wet environment. This type of data collection results in inconsistent formats as information moves along the supply chain. Take, for example, DD:MM:YY; DD:MM:YYYY; DD:May:YY: MM:DD:YY, and all possible variations of date ranges as data changes hands, geographies, and time zones.

Digital, proprietary systems that don't follow industry standards only slightly improve on pen-and-paper traceability by offering secure cloud storage. However, their lack of standardization leads to fragmentation and functional silos across the industry through the proliferation of proprietary data formats and traceability protocols. For instance, if a supplier uses a traceability system not based on standards for retailer A, they cannot easily replicate data for retailers B and C, despite selling the same product. This results in suppliers paying for redundant technologies and repeatedly collecting the same data in different formats, increasing costs, room for errors, data loss and manipulation, and, ultimately, more barriers to adoption.

The final challenge involves misinformation about existing technologies. Technology providers often exaggerate their capabilities, misleading buyers into thinking these solutions ensure regulatory compliance and sustainability. Terms like "traceability" are misused to describe chain of custody, tracking, or data collection practices that fall short of true event-based traceability. Event-based traceability answers questions at each supply chain step. This type of traceability provides the data required by GDST and regulations like Rule 204.

Underlying these three problems is an absence of a common language for data collection and an accurate representation of what it means for a product to be traceable. The irony of proprietary systems, or systems that claim to perform traceability, is that they undermine the goal of transparency, which entails a clear view of the supply chain through the use of detailed and accurate data that is easily accessible and exchanged between stakeholders and systems.

As Wholechain’s mission is to enable transparency in global supply chains, it is only natural for us to advocate for standards and educate buyers about the implications of hiring solutions not based on industry standards. Initiatives like the GDST are instrumental in establishing common frameworks and protocols, reducing the complexity and cost associated with implementing traceability solutions.

SeafoodSource: What might a rapid adoption of traceability standards look like?

Berryhill: The adoption of standards is crucial for the seafood industry, or any industry, to unlock the full potential of traceability and drive value across the supply chain. Standardization mitigates the costs and inefficiencies of managing multiple data formats, enhancing trust and transparency through interoperability among stakeholders. 

Interoperability, in turn, fosters healthy competition among technology providers, which we believe will ultimately catalyze innovation, market growth, and lower costs for seafood companies. For example, consider that you can send an email using Gmail to your friend who uses Hotmail, without your friend having to also use Gmail. This is an example of how common standards enable interoperability, which has propelled the widespread adoption of technologies like email. 

In the case of traceability systems, interoperability simplifies adoption for suppliers so they do not have to manage multiple systems for different buyers and, instead, can choose the system that best suits their needs. Enabling trust and simplicity of adoption, standards further incentivize responsible supply chain actors to participate in traceability programs, given the competitive edge that traceable products have in a marketplace hungry for transparency.

Standards also enable companies to be nimble in the face of industry-wide changes. Collaboration within initiatives like GDST and proactive engagement from industry players are essential in driving the adoption of standards and realizing the full benefits of traceability in the seafood sector. At Wholechain, we’ve been committed to standardization from the outset and are proud to be the one of the GDST-verified capable solutions.

SeafoodSource: Where does the return on investment lie for seafood companies within traceability?

Berryhill: As a traceability solution provider working with some of the seafood industry’s most respected companies, we understand that customer concerns go beyond external reporting and that internal efficiencies and risk management are paramount. While many companies initially adopt traceability in response to buyer demands and external pressures, the true value long term lies in optimizing internal processes and enhancing operational excellence.

Traceability enables companies to gain granular insights into their supply chains, identify inefficiencies, and mitigate risks effectively. By implementing a robust traceability system, companies can streamline operations, minimize waste, and improve product quality and safety. 

A couple of salient examples I can provide include a large seafood buyer who, in 2021, leveraged traceability data on Wholechain to identify and replace a fraudulent seafood supplier. Later that year, a large retailer used lot-based data in Wholechain to identify cases of seafood that were accidentally mislabeled with an incorrect country of origin by temp workers hired at a plant during a Covid-19 outbreak. The retailer was able to use traceability reports to identify and correct the mistake before the product was distributed, thus preventing a recall for mislabeling. 

Both examples entail risk management that ultimately saved those companies money in the short and long terms. More importantly, they also averted the risk of losing consumer trust. 

According to a study by GMA, Covington & Burling LLP, and Ernst & Young, food recalls cost companies an average of over USD 10 million (EUR 9.3 million), with 23 percent of these instances totaling over USD 30 million (EUR 27.8 million). Another statistic worth noting is from a Planet Tracker report featuring Wholechain, which found that an investment of just 1 percent of the global seafood industry’s revenue into improved traceability could increase total profitability by 60 percent.

As the industry evolves, we anticipate a shift toward leveraging traceability for internal optimization and operational excellence, ultimately driving long-term value for seafood companies and the entire supply chain.  

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