The emergence of COVID-19 has accelerated the need for reliable end-to-end traceability in the fresh produce industry, according to a leading Australian blockchain traceability and assurance system.
Co-Founder of FreshChain Systems Greg Calvert says there has been growing awareness of food safety and technology opportunities, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated and re-prioritised it.
“The need for greater assurance has moved to all essential areas that we rely on to keep us safe; a safe and reliable fresh food supply that supports our physical and emotional well-being being one of them. Consumers want to know more about the food they eat and support local producers and businesses, now more than ever.”
Mr Calvert says a recent food survey from McCain Foodservice found that 80.8% of consumers said they are now more interested to know about where the food and produce come from once venues re-open.- and keeping consumers informed will ensure the most frequent and lucrative visitors keep returning to the food outlets they love.
"Robust end-to-end traceability that can identify, authenticate and assure is key to rebuilding trust with us as consumers and ensuring that we can have confidence in the institutions appointed to keep us safe," Mr Calvert said. "This is where FreshChain can help by providing justified assurance in real-time right through the supply chain. The potential risks extend to us as consumers if we fail on this, indeed to our entire supply chain is significant including at a national level in terms of reputation as Australia being a provider of fresh and safe food."
The FreshChain system is a combination of existing technologies and newly developed inputs to deliver an easy to use, effective and low-cost platform irrespective of a company's existing digital capabilities. The FreshChain algorithms are built off the back of deep fresh food knowledge with their blockchain-based on Ethereum smart contracts - allowing it to record the movement, transformation, inputs of fresh produce.
"What sets us apart is our customer-first approach, not technology and blockchain," Mr Calvert said. "The integrity of the information going in is key, and our focus is on making it as easy and robust as possible. We are not really a team of tech heads. What I mean by that is rather than getting carried away by the underlying technology, we are always more intrigued and excited about the industry transformation our system can support and importantly how it leaves our customers and consumers feeling. "
He added that traceability does not mean that things will not go wrong but it gives customers peace of mind that they can consume fresh food with confidence knowing that robust processes are in place to lock down, notify and contain products if they are subject to a recall and withdrawal.
"FreshChain can support existing systems and can alert consumers in real-time through scanning their encrypted QR about their product if there is a recall, what to do with it and direct appropriate next steps. The impacts of poor or limited traceability extend to food security, economic upstream and downstream. FreshChain can help educate, inspire and protect our fresh food industry through adoption and use of its systems that will result in increased consumption, reduced food waste and open doors to new export markets."
FreshChain has been adopted across fruit and vegetable, meat, wine, juice, dairy and fibre products, and includes growers, wholesale markets/aggregators and retailers.
"For the grower who owns the data, they achieve a digital traceability system with the ability to track their product through and learn more about who their consumers are, how they rate their product, what they are interested in knowing more about through accessing deep consumer insight reports,” he said.
“They can also benefit from our productivity reports to measure yields, packing performance and movements during a day. A retailer benefits by assuring customers that their offer is safe and fresh have confidence that in the event of a recall/withdrawal they can quickly identify, contain and alert consumers in real-time that the issue is under control and they can purchase again with confidence. Retailers can also benefit from our intelligent supply chain monitoring, to reduce waste, highlight opportunities to improve the chain. A regulator benefits through quicker access to issues enabling them to support the affected farm/processing facility in managing risk. A consumer benefits through learning more about where their food is from, who produced it, processes and certifications that a farm signs up to. A consumer can, at the flick of a camera be assured that their product is fresh and then learn about the things that they make buying decisions around such as ethical sourcing, packaging, compliance to The Modern Slavery Act for example. We have a focus on food waste so add tips on food storage and allow consumers to rate the product and provide direct feedback to the farmer/brand owner."
Training can be completed within a day for clients to go live, with many previously relying on paper-based processes, so they see the FreshChain system as a valuable farm asset that can be leveraged down the line. Mr Calvert adds that for many, this is their first foray into a digital traceability platform which reduces manual workloads and the likelihood of mistakes.
"We are really focused on simplicity, no duplication, effective and low cost," he said. "You can use existing smartphones and with location services it can be as simple as a one-off data entry input into your FreshChain account, for example, creating the item, uploading the certifications you want to share, telling your story around provenance, adding recipes and storage tips, and away you go. The trace data is automated when the first label is scanned with a smartphone/sensor and held on the block-chain on a distributed ledger so the trace detail cannot be altered. For larger enterprises with multiple farms, multiple products then they may request integration with the FreshChain API which we happily accommodate. Bottom line is that we want every grower and brand owner to have the opportunity to participate so the focus needs to be on working with existing systems to create value."
Mr Calvert explains that while there is a growing appetite for Australian investment in local agtech there is still much to do. If we want to retain and build a resilient and vibrant agtech community with locally developed and owned IP, built from the grassroots that support rural and regional Australia we need to be in it for the long haul.