PARIS — Expanding its use of blockchain technology to track groceries, Carrefour has joined IBM’s Food Trust Platform, a move that adds an international dimension to the network grouping retailers and producers.
The platform, which relies on IBM’s cloud computing expertise and was developed with Walmart Inc., includes grocery cooperative Topco Associates, producers such as Beefchain, Smithfield and Dennick Fruit Source and food logistics company Scoular.
After a year and a half of testing, the platform is in operation, serving as a network for actors in the grocery sector to share expertise and information about the origin of produce. Blockchain technology, a type of decentralized, digital registry, allows products to be traced to their origins faster than has been traditionally possible — in a matter of seconds rather than days or weeks, according to IBM and Walmart.
“Consumers want more and more transparency regarding the products they eat,” said Cosme de Moucheron, a managing director at IBM who works with Carrefour on the project.
Carrefour, the world’s second largest retailer after Walmart with extensive operations in Brazil, began using blockchain technology earlier this year to track poultry. New technologies are central to the strategy of the retailer as it undergoes a broad overhaul to shore up defenses against the dominance of online behemoths Amazon and Alibaba.
“Being a founding member of IBM Food Trust platform is a great opportunity for Carrefour to strongly accelerate and widen the integration of blockchain technology to our products in order to provide our clients with safe and undoubted traceability,” said Laurent Vallée, Carrefour Group’s general secretary.
Partnerships have played an important role in the restructuring of the retailer, which under the direction of chief executive officer Alexandre Bompard, has embarked on a spree of partnerships to shore up its businesses, ranging from U.K.-based Tesco for global purchasing and Tencent in China as well as Google and the postal service in France.
Carrefour has struggled under the weight of its domestic network of sprawling big-box stores, or hypermarkets, a model invented by the group in the Sixties that brings groceries and household appliances under the same roof. The model has lost relevance with the rise of online commerce and as consumers turn to smaller, convenient stores in city centers.
Last month, Walmart issued a letter to suppliers of leafy vegetables admonishing them to adopt blockchain technology by next year to trace produce “all the way back to the farm,” and citing a recent outbreak of E. coli in romaine lettuce that sent nearly a hundred people to the hospital and caused five deaths.
“Suppliers will be required to capture digital, end-to-end traceability event information using the IBM Food Trust network,” the company said.