Digital Traceability: A Future of Transparency in Food Sourcing

September 2020

A renewed focus has been placed on brand transparency, driven by a range of factors, including digitalisation, globalisation, ethical consumerism and the Coronavirus pandemic. As more consumers research products online, digital solutions will be critical to reassuring consumers that products are what they say they are. This briefing provides a discussion of three emerging technologies; blockchain, Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence, and their future viability in food tracing.

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Key Findings

Coronavirus (COVID-19) accelerates demand for digital traceability solutions

The global COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated consumer interest in supply chain transparency. Heightened public concern around hygiene and food safety is expected to see more consumers scrutinising the brands they purchase from. Digital traceability solutions such as smart labelling and digital tracing that provide contact-free and secure product information at speed can play a role in reassuring consumers that products are safe to eat.

Asian markets lead traceability adoption

Digital traceability is expected to expand in markets where digital shopping is prevalent. In markets such as China, Japan and South Korea, consumers are familiar with using mobile apps to seek out detailed product information. Asian markets can provide important learnings for global businesses in how to seamlessly integrate traceability solutions into existing digital platforms.

Strong business case for fresh food tracing

Simpler supply chains of fresh products such as meat and fruit and vegetables make end-to-end visibility more achievable. The global meat industry, in particular, has seen increased interest in blockchain, machine learning and robotics to counteract the rise in food fraud and animal welfare concerns.

Blockchain hype overshadowed by investments in AI and IoT

Huge price drops in digital sensors such as RFID tags and artificial intelligence software have seen food businesses more interested in investing in artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) over blockchain. Although, COVID-19 has put a spotlight on the application of blockchain in food safety and sustainability-based traceability, high costs and lack of clear use cases remain a major obstacle in its adoption.

Introduction

Scope
Key findings

Transparency Frontlined

Digital transformation in the COVID-19 era
Digital traceability solutions can build trust among younger consumers
Digital traceability more suited to regions where digital consumers exist
Learning from South Korea’s e-commerce landscape

The New Age of Digital Traceability

Key applications of digital traceability initiatives
Three technologies are emerging to support digital traceability
Opportunity for blockchain-based traceability solutions still wide open
Passporting food as COVID-19-free through blockchain
Lower cost of RFID tags sees rapid adoption in food tracing
Meat processors increasingly turning to AI amidst contamination scares

Future Outlook

Future business investment expected to target IoT and AI
COVID-19 accelerates demand for digital traceability solutions
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