Blockchain & IoT Revolutionizing The Food Industry Supply Chain Management

Can you name a company that uses both IoT and blockchain in the food industry? Meet Zest Labs, food freshness tracking solutions provider that utilizes both wireless sensor technology and the blockchain to organize effective fresh food supply chain.

Blockchain is something that’s already well-known yet majorly still not widely adopted. For most people, it’s all about Bitcoins. Same with IoT – few early adopters know that it’s more than your Google Home and Alexa speakers. However, those who know are making millions today by adopting those technologies for their own operations. And here’s how.

Internet of things and freshness management

Zest Labs is an agritech subsidiary of a large Ecoark Holding (Logistics, RFID, Supply Chain Management), was founded in 2003 and is headquartered in San Jose, California. They have developed a fresh food management solution that ensures consistent quality, reduced waste, and improves food safety using Intelleflex IoT technology.

Intelleflex wireless sensor tracking food freshness as a part of IoT network

Here’s how Zest Labs’ CTO Scott Durgin explains their services:

“We provide a solution from grower to grocer. We use sensor-based technologies to help suppliers and retailers manage the freshness and quality as well as tracking and traceability. And core to this concept is the fact that waste is a fairly big problem in the industry. This stems from the fact that 30% of products aren’t handled correctly, and it is difficult to differentiate them from the 70% that are. There are literally tens of millions of tonnes of produce shipped. You can’t individually check all the pallets.”

Food waste is a serious issue in the US, causing total waste of resources that yearly reaches at least $218 billion according to the NRDC. Depending on various secondary metrics like location’s humidity, and field and storage temperatures, produce that was picked on the same day may have a different shelf life. Thus, food quality suffers, as the “best by” dates often turn to be unrealistic.

Vegetable market and a customer buying tomatoes

Zest Labs responds to this problem with a single freshness metric which they call the ZIPR code. It is based on the product type, growing location, as well as the harvest and processing conditions, enabling companies to make significantly smarter freshness management decisions.

The software platform that actually calculates a ZIPR code is called Zest Fresh. It tracks each pallet, using the patented methodology and IoT sensors, defining the exact freshness of each batch. This results in tremendous benefits for producers, retailers, and HoReCa companies.

Testing has confirmed that this technology is able to reduce up to half of the produced waste. Zest Fresh provides real-time freshness tracking and enables intelligent routing that optimizes delivery time to match the required shelf-life. The produce with a closer “best by” date is re-routed to the nearest client location, ensuring the consumption before expiration.

What’s about up with the blockchain?

As of November, Zest Labs are now also providing a free blockchain service as a part of the platform. By keeping all the key freshness records transparent for all participants within the network, Blockchain adds an additional layer of security. And this, in its turn, strengthens trust between producers and shippers throughout the fresh food supply chain.

Zest Fresh leverages secure and authenticated data collection based on the Zest Cloud technology. Blockchain also enables smart contracts across the network that indicate when fresh products reach contracted specifications.

Zest Lab’s management believes that the blockchain enhances security but can’t replace the conventional IoT data processing and storage:

“Would we use blockchain for our core internal processing of the system? No, it’s not designed to do that. We have the Zest platform underneath which is actually a data streaming complex event processing system and it’s designed to scale in the world of IoT and it does things in a very real time fashion and handles very complex event streams that could never be applicable to being processed in a blockchain.

If you think about quality in freshness, it’s more than just sensor data thrown into a block or a transaction in a block and so we see the opportunity to take this universal ZIPR code and for those folks where blockchain makes sense to their business. Given the very nature of what blockchain does it creates a very interesting information sharing network opportunity that ensures consistency up and down the supply chain.”

Inevitable conclusion

As we can see, modern farming business is far closer to the future than one may think. Despite their early state of adoption, IoT and blockchain technologies are already changing the fresh food logistics. So what does it mean for your own business?

The whole supply chain industry is rapidly improving, and it’s a great time to benefit from this. If your company deals with logistics regularly or has even a small inventory – adoption of the new technology can be your long-awaited turning point. You won’t believe how many savings are hidden there.

During the course of the last 2 years, the supply chain software we helped to develop saved its users over €5 million. You don’t have to be a huge corporation to benefit from the complex solutions like Zest Fresh when the software is tailored specifically to your needs. And we have both experience and capabilities to develop the exact solution your business requires.

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