How Walmart Is Blockchaining Your Salad

By: on June 10, 2019

During the recent Gartner Executive Supply Chain conference, Jonathan Wright, Global Head Cognitive Process Re-engineering at IBM, used a book and chapters analogy to describe the evolution of blockchain networks:

  • Chapter one was focused on fostering, sharing, and gaining interest.
  • Chapter two is about “the corporations putting customer service first will be implementing blockchain” and updating processes to adopt the new technology.

We’re currently in chapter two, and Walmart is one of these corporations that is once again forcing supply chains to change processes and adopt new technology.

First the infamous RFID mandate and now a blockchain network, Walmart is driving changes in supply chains—often quicker than most businesses can keep up with. But keep up you must or lose the business of the corporation with a 23% market share of grocers in the U.S..

In this article we’ll get tips from an adoption expert on how to keep up.

farmer using ipad

New technology out in the fields (Source)

If you missed part 1 of this piece, check it out here. I cover the basics of what a blockchain network is, why it’s important now, and give a visual to help show your position in the network.

What does the Walmart IBM blockchain mandate look like?

If you’re a supplier of leafy greens to Walmart, then in late September you received official notification from the retail giant announcing “a new, blockchain-enabled Walmart Food Traceability Initiative that will increase transparency in the food system and create shared value for the entire leafy green farm to table continuum.”

All suppliers of leafy greens will need to upload their data to IBM’s Food Trust blockchain network by September 20, 2019, or lose their business.

Right now, many small farmers and SMBs are generating digital files, such as an Excel .XML file, and then uploading that data to Food Trust. While this may sound straightforward, a quick look at the templates shows this could be a rather technical task involving light coding.

IBM Food Trust xml sheet

The template that will be used to communicate facility information (Source)

This article is meant to help contextualize the push for blockchain from the major corporations and why small to midsize businesses (SMBs) need to be actively planning for the changes. For more details on the specific data points required by the Food Trust, check out this guide.

Advice from an adoption expert

I interviewed industry expert Rick Pimentel, Business Application Manager with ZAG Technical Services, who works with farmers and small businesses to update their digital recording processes in order to comply. He shared with me three key pieces of advice for any business working to comply for Walmart.

Advice: Embrace the changes

Changes will always be forced upon businesses and the old adage holds true: change or die. Mr. Pimentel shared the frustration some farmers and SMBs are experiencing with these mandated changes, especially because of the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) run by Walmart a few years back.

PTI came with major changes to digital record keeping, and the effort was no small feat. And in fact, the data requirements look nearly identical-only this time Walmart wants them in a new format. This is where the frustration stems. You can see the similarities with the new .XML data file and the older one shown below.

PTI excel template

Example of the 2012 PTI master data file (Source)

Advice: Know the data requirements

Mr. Pimentel advises his clients to learn the new data points required by Walmart for the Food Trust. You need to understand exactly what information is needed, the format it’s needed in, and when to capture it.

You will find this information and examples in the template that IBM Food Trust provides. As you’ll be sharing this data across a transparent and immutable network, you’ll want to be clear on the requirements.

Examples of data needed for Food Trust

Message types and descriptions of the data needed in that field for Food Trust’s blockchain network (Source)

Advice: Figure out your forward traceability

Mr. Pimentel also shared that backward traceability isn’t the difficult part, it’s the forward traceability. All of the events leading up to a truck of apples leaving a distribution center are already being tracked, but once the Walmart truck picks it up and drives off to a store that’s where the exact tracking can get lost.

So if an issue is identified in the distribution center and the apples need to be recalled, with forward traceability you’d be able to put out a recall to the exact Walmart location they were sent to.

The Food Trust is designed to help you with this via the Food Trust Trace module. But you’ll need to partner with your suppliers to ensure agreement on the processes.

IBM’s blockchain is expanding its reach

The lure of a transparent, decentralized ledger tracking nearly all goods from creation to consumption is rapidly growing in appeal. CB Insights reports on 50 industries that are being disrupted by blockchain networks, from ride sharing to hedge funds.

Consumers want real-time updates on their orders and are starting to demand this information be readily available from all businesses. And IBM isn’t the only provider working hard to satisfy this demand.

So whether you’re one of the impacted suppliers discussed in this article or you’ve heard rumblings of blockchain coming to your doorstep, prepare your business with future-proof technology today. Call our advisors today for a free consultation to find the best supply chain management software solution for your business, now and the future. Call 844-680-2046.

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