In October 2016, Walmart, together with its technology partner IBM, announced the two projects: one was about tracing the origin of mangos sold in Walmart’s US stores and the other aimed to trace pork sold in its China stores.
For the mango POC, Yiannas started by creating a benchmark. He bought a packet of sliced mangoes at a nearby Walmart store and asked his team to identify which farm they had come from – as fast as possible. The team started calling and emailing distributors and suppliers, and eventually had an answer almost seven days later. This was not bad by industry standards, but Walmart wanted to do much better. So together with IBM, they got to work building a blockchain-based food traceability system.
The Walmart Technology team looked at their own processes as well as those of their suppliers to design the application. Archana Sristy, Director of Engineering at Walmart, explains, “[Our team at Walmart Technology] co-led the core design and setup of the application (with IBM), as well as built the integration with the enterprise systems. We worked with GS1 (the standards authority in barcodes and labeling) to define the data attributes for upload to the blockchain. IBM wrote the chaincode.
Suppliers used new labels and uploaded their data through a web-based interface.
The Hyperledger Fabric blockchain-based food traceability system built for the two products worked. For pork in China, it allowed uploading certificates of authenticity to the blockchain, bringing more trust to a system where that used to be a serious issue. And for mangoes in the US, the time needed to trace their provenance went from 7 days to… 2.2 seconds!
From POC to production, from Walmart to IBM Food Trust
Once Walmart saw that the system worked, they wanted to expand it – and not just within Walmart. Given the interconnected nature of the food system and the company’s negative experience with closed systems, Walmart wanted to make sure that this time, many players were involved. Says Yiannas, “(Walmart’s) CEO was reaching out to other food companies the next day, including other retailers!” Wal-Mart collaborated with IBM and others to set up IBM Food Trust, involving prominent players in the food industry, like Nestle and Unilever.
The Walmart team had a positive experience working with Hyperledger. “Every question that we had, it looked like the Hyperledger community had already been working on addressing that,” says Bedwell. For example, in building a truly open system, the Walmart team worried about interoperability with other blockchain-based traceability systems. And as if in answer to their concern, Hyperledger recently announced its collaboration with Ethereum. He adds, “It seems that the Hyperledger community is addressing everything that enterprises would be concerned about.”