Walmart’s Journey in the Blockchain Arena
By Bhupinder Kour
September 4, 2019 5 min read
Last update on: September 4, 2019

Blockchain technology has emerged as something beyond a buzzword. Almost every brand and industry has started embracing the idea of incorporating it into their traditional processes and reap better benefits – with Walmart being no exception.

Walmart, the popular multinational retail company, is using Blockchain to change the landscape of the food industry, especially in terms of better traceability.

“Creating a (traceability) system for the entire food supply ecosystem has been a challenge for years, and no one had figured it out,” said Karl Bedwell, a senior director at Walmart Technology, “We thought that blockchain technology might be a good fit for this problem, because of its focus on trust, immutability, and transparency.”

The company has created a Blockchain system based on the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Fabric. Also, it has partnered with IBM to introduce two proof-of-concept (PoC) projects to bring out better opportunities in the food business vertical.

Here, the first PoC project focuses on tracing the origins of mangoes that are being sold in Walmart’s stores in the USA. Whereas, the second one is concerned with tracing pork meat that is traded in the Chinese outlets of the company.

Besides, the company also created a traceability platform called the VeChain Thor Blockchain by undergoing into partnership with PwC, CCFA (China Chain- Store & Franchise Association), VeChain, and Inner Mongolia Kerchin Co. Ltd. This platform enables customers to get comprehensive details of the products – right from its source to logistics processes, and inspection rounds – with a mere scan of the product.

Additionally, Walmart along with nine other big companies like Nestle SA, Driscoll’s Inc, Kroger Co., and Unilever NV, collaborated with IBM to introduce a Blockchain-powered decentralized platform. This platform, named as the Food Trust Blockchain, will help them detect issues like food viral outbreaks in real-time and take the right actions.

While these are the steps that Walmart has taken for integrating Blockchain into its supply chain, the questions that arise here are – What is its need? What difference can Blockchain make in food traceability process?

Let’s dig out the reason behind this initiative and its probable effect here.

The Prime Reason Behind This Initiative

As per the Walmart team, the food traceability takes around 7 days when done manually. Because of this, it is quite difficult to undo the effect of the world’s most hazardous food safety scandals. Ones like that of milk adulteration incident that happened across China.

In that milk product counterfeit scandal, melamine which is a white solid product made from cyanamide was added to milk to increase its quantity significantly. After drinking that contaminated milk, around 300,000 people suffered from physical and mental issues – with six babies found suffering from kidney stones and internal organ damage.

If Blockchain would have been a part of the food traceability process that time, the duration would have been reduced from 7 days to just 2.2 seconds. This would have eventually saved many lives.

Now, since such incidents are not a past story, it is still a profitable step to introduce Blockchain into the food traceability system. The technology, with its potential beyond cryptocurrencies, will enable anyone to trace the product throughout its journey and find the source of the problem. This will further help to prevent further impact and save many lives at an accelerated pace. Also, it will safeguard the livelihood of the farmers by eliminating that limited product which may have been produced from the affected piece of farmland.

While these efforts were confined to Food domain, Walmart realized the potential of Blockchain to revamp the whole economy. And thus, turned towards adopting the technology in other processes as well. Two of them are:-

1. Drug Distribution

Walmart and IBM collaborated with KPMG and Merck to introduce a drug supply-chain blockchain pilot. This pilot program provides the opportunity to trace drug packages with unique identifier key. It also provides a real-time record of each transaction made in associated with consignments being moved and thus, gain better access to audit trail.

Here, KPMG take care of all the compliance-related issues, while Walmart and Merck focuses on the drug distribution-related concerns.

2. Drone Communication System

Walmart also filed a patent for Blockchain-based drone communication with U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This system will encrypt and manage the operational parameters of every aerial device of the brand. This information can be transmitted to another drone, which can then be decrypted, read, and configured on its own based on the new delivered parameters. This will act as a blueprint to ensure better management of complex vehicle-to-vehicle communication for unmanned drones. 

With this covered, let’s see what are Walmart’s future plans in the Blockchain ecosystem.

Walmart’s Future Plans in Blockchain Environment

The company declared that the introduction of Hyperledger Fabric-based blockchain system has simplified traceability of the origins of more than 25 products from five different sources.  And soon, they will employ blockchain’s potential to bring operational transparency in the vegetable sector. Meaning, it will use the technology to trace vegetables supply and gain associated information swiftly and effectively.

While this is all about how Walmart is utilizing the potential of Blockchain for a safer present and future in the food industry, it is not only the first mover.

Various other reputed companies like Anheuser Busch InBev and Alibaba have also turned towards Blockchain to streamline their processes. While the former one entered into a partnership with U.S fintech startup BanQu to make it easier for African farmers to get a holistic view of their agricultural produce sales and receive payments via a mobile app, the later rolled out a blockchain pilot to fight back fake food products.

This, as a whole, gives an impression that Blockchain is growing to be an indispensable element of the Food and Supply Chain industry. In such a scenario, if you are someone still struggling with understanding how to bring the technology on board in your food business, connect with reputed Blockchain consultant today.

Bhupinder Kour
Bhupinder Kour
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