Fall River, Massachusetts, U.S.A.-based seafood supplier Raw Seafoods is hoping to rebuild consumer trust in the seafood market through use of blockchain technology and QR codes, starting with its fresh and frozen scallop products.
Consumer confidence in seafood in the U.S. is low, which may be leading Americans to eat less seafood. Average annual per capita U.S. consumption is just 16 to 17 pounds and between 80 and 90 percent of Americans currently eat less than the recommended amount of seafood, according to the U.S. Department for Agriculture.
Raw Seafoods Vice President of Marketing Daniel McQuade his company is taking a new approach to getting Americans to trust the provenance of their seafood enough to want to eat it.
“The idea started a couple of years ago, when there was an outbreak of E. coli linked to romaine lettuce, which could not be traced back to source. A number of consumers of this lettuce died, thousands were ill, farmers had to destroy their crops and had a really bad time of it. That got me wondering how, in this day and age, with so much technology available, that the authorities could not track down the culprit,” McQuade told SeafoodSource.
He began to dig deeper, and realized that whereas the large corporations such as Walmart were working with the IBM Food Trust blockchain platform on the leafy greens to track and trace these products every step of the way, there was a lot of room for things to go wrong in wholesalers, smaller shops, and restaurants.
“It’s no wonder that consumers have become wary of seafood; We have a lot of issues with it in the U.S.,” he said. “The big three ones are sustainability, food safety, and seafood fraud, and that’s without looking at quality and freshness. Every few months there seems to be another outrage when a particular product turns out not to be what it says on the label, which means that the food chain is not secure, when it should be.”
Blockchain, McQuade surmised, could provide the answer for everyone, so he called up IBM and talked to them about his idea; and IBM listened, telling McQuade they were happy to work with the big guys and the little guys in the industry.
His idea was simple in concept, but it took more than a year to bring all the pieces, people and technology together, and to create a business model with IBM that worked.
“I wanted to connect the whole supply chain, from the boat, through us as processors, and on to distributors, supermarkets and restaurants. From there, the next step was to help the customer facing outlets to connect the chain to their consumers through QR codes, building a whole line of trust along the way, and this in turn, I believe, will help to increase seafood sales,” he said.
McQuade started with the boats.
“We buy top quality, MSC-certified scallops from a fleet owned by Captain Danny Eilertsen, who works the Atlantic sea scallop fishery. Captain Eilertsen’s first reaction was, ‘Does it matter to anyone where they come from, how we harvest, how we manage our catch?’ I explained that it mattered a lot in terms of consumer trust, and that by using the IBM platform, we could actually connect to the consumers and have them engage with the supply chain,” McQuade said. “ I told him that we would share the story, the provenance, include pictures and videos of the boats and the shucking, for example, and that diners could find out exactly where and when their scallops were caught, when and where they were landed, processed, shipped, and so on, until they arrived on their plate.”
McQuade said Eilertsen quickly bought into the idea, working closely with Marel to install new hardware and software on his boats that would enable him to tag each bag of scallops with a traceable code that linked all the information of the harvest. After taggint he scallops, he can upload the same data to the IBM FoodTrust platform in real-time right from the ocean.
“Our company has permission to see the boat data, which we add to with our processing data, then the next person in the chain gets to see these two pieces of data, adds theirs to it, and so on and so on down the chain. I think it is a really cool way to link everything together, particularly as with blockchain, no one can change it down the line, so all the data is immutable,” he said.
Next in line was discussions with distributors such as Santa Monica Seafoods, and restaurants including TAPS Fish House and Brewery and Santa Monica Seafoods Market & Cafes, all of whom could see the advantages for themselves in terms of due diligence, and for their customers in terms of a building trust and purchasing empowerment, McQuade said.
“This data will help us forge a more direct and fruitful partnership with the captains and crew that are harvesting the seafood we serve, and we think customers are going to love it,” said Tom Hope, director of food and beverage at TAPS Fish House & Brewery, which is located in Brea, California.
The consumer app for supermarkets and restaurants will go live on 1 November, and McQuade is keen to hear the feedback. He has been working with chefs and front of house staff to ensure they are ready to engage with diners.
McQuade also has bigger goals than tracking and tracing Raw Seafoods scallops. He hopes that by setting an example and pioneering the way, that the whole seafood industry will want to get onboard and start exploring how they might also help to restore public confidence in eating seafood.
“There are lots of good retailers out there who struggle selling seafood, especially in supermarkets, but if we tell the story, and show that the industry cares enough to do something about it, then I believe the strategy will work. We also need consumers to become more demanding about the reassurance they need from food supply chains. This is just the beginning!” he said.
Photo courtesy of Raw Seafoods