Tracing back a cup of coffee using blockchain technology
In today’s digital era, coffee aficionados are very demanding. They insist to know the whole story behind their cup of coffee. The reason is that coffee has become so much more than a simple beverage and knowing its origin, how it was plucked and roasted, and how it landed in their hands all add to this unique sensory experience. This thirst for knowledge also serves as a reassurance for consumers that the coffee they are drinking are indeed of the finest quality, not tampered with. At the same time, an increasing number of coffee drinkers want to make sure that the coffee they are consuming is sustainable and that coffee planters are not being exploited. To respond to all these demands, blockchain technology is currently considered as being the prime solution.
Coffee drinkers can trace back their coffee beans right to the farmer
Created as a digital ledger that is decentralized and irreversible, blockchain can be used to record transactions of almost any kind. Being a shared database, everyone in a network can access and update the information. The key feature is that every single record is registered and cannot be deleted. Data can neither be forged nor altered secretly too. This, hence, provides for an unrivalled level of transparency and traceability.
For tech-savvy consumers, blockchain technology- which has already infiltrated the food and beverage industry in various sectors- means that they can find out exactly where the product is originating from and all the steps it went through before landing into their hands. This innovative technology brings the answers to tricky questions such as whether a product is obtained by sustainable means, whether it is ethical or even legal. Businesses, on their side, can have a more efficient tool to track their relationships with their suppliers.
In the coffee industry, tracking starts as soon as the coffee bean is plucked. An example of a coffee shop having embraced the blockchain system is Denver’s Coda Coffee, tracking coffee from farm to shop. Customers are given a QR code for every coffee they buy. When scanned, the code reveals all the necessary details such as the collection at the farm, the washing, drying and milling processes, the export information as well as data about the roasting and retail.
Businesses along the supply chain can benefit from a robust level of transparency
Obviously, to put such a system in place, various changes had to be done. For cataloguing purposes, farmers in Eastern Uganda have to place their crop in a machine that analyzes the beans and assigns them a lot number that customers can trace. This machine, named the bextmachine, is the brainchild of Denver’s start-up Bext360. This ingenious invention was designed to be much more than a simple useful tool for the end user. Instead, the bextmachine provides better information to all the businesses along the supply chain.
Three-dimensional scans of the outer fruit of each bean can be viewed and maximum details and characteristics of the coffee beans at farm level are also furnished. The machine can process approximately 50kg of coffee beans per minute. These features definitely help wholesalers as well as roasters to learn which bean attributes produce what types of tastes. They can, subsequently, adjust future sourcing decisions. To date, various food and beverage products contain information that has not been personally verified by those mentioning these pieces of information. But blockchain technology allows the drinker to instantly trace their coffee right back to the farmer.
Blockchain technology can trigger a seismic change in the coffee industry
Coffee production is known for its far-flung suppliers around the world and complicated supply chains. It also involves wholesale markets and regional distributors, rendering the whole traceability process complicated and difficult to verify. For businesses, blockchain technology opens up an ideal means to make transparency and traceability more robust. Bext360 charges coffee producers and roasters between 1% and 2% of the wholesale price of the beans for using its machine and the bext360’s blockchain program. Businesses in the supply chain can witness a reduction in overall costs as paperwork and other routine processes are eliminated.
Farmers, on their side, can benefit from a greater feeling of security. Not having to rely on any middleman, they can be sure that their coffee is being assessed fairly and that they are obtaining a likewise fair price for their products. Another behemoth in the coffee industry to test blockchain technology is Starbucks Corp. The company launched a two-year pilot program in view of developing traceability of coffee beans from farms in Costa Rica, Colombia and Rwanda. Blockchain technology is, hence, seen as a possible tool to trigger a seismic change in the coffee industry that has not really benefitted from much technological innovation in the manner coffee travels across borders.
Blockchain technology can ensure food safety
Blockchain technology can also be a powerful safeguard against fraudsters. Scandals such as the case of Vietnamese suspected of dyeing waste coffee with battery chemicals can definitely be avoided. Food safety can reach a completely new level with this innovative technology, empowering the entire chain to become more responsive to any food safety disasters. Nestle and Unilever are examples of companies that have equally integrated blockchain technology into their production system. In case of an outbreak of disease or contamination, for instance, lives can be saved through the use of blockchain technology that can instantly identify and retrace any contaminated batch.
Organisations caught in food scandals find themselves having to endure dire consequences. For instance, an adulteration verdict can amount to 15% of a company’s annual revenues, not to mention the damage done to the company’s reputation and its brand loyalty. As a result, companies do find it in their own benefit to implement a transparent and sophisticated food safety and food management system to ensure that such disasters do not happen because any attempt to tamper with a food item can be immediately detected before it even reaches the retailer.
Read more on bext360’s first run of blockchain traceable limited run coffee that originated from Grate Lakes Coffee, a Uganda based coffee exporter and Coda Coffee, a Denver based coffee roaster.