‘From barley to bar’: AB InBev pilots blockchain to boost transparency and traceability

Beer made using the tracked barley will go on sale early next year

Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) has partnered with multinational tech giant Fujitsu and Belgian blockchain platform firm SettleMint to help its farmers track and trace barley throughout the supply chain in France and Belgium.

At every stage in the process, supply chain workers will be required to scan a code on the materials. This creates a tamper-proof digital audit trail which enables AB InBev to ensure that suppliers are keeping to agreements on the environment and human rights, and to track whether any parts of the supply chain are facing challenges that it can help to remedy.

Once the beer reaches bars, restaurants and retailers, consumers will be able to access the information stored using the blockchain platform by scanning on-pack QR codes. AB InBev will develop a dedicated microsite for this, which will present the information in an easy-to-understand format.

AB InBev works directly with around 60% of its global network of farmers; the idea is that the blockchain could boost visibility on the remaining 40%. It will be trialled by a group of barley farmers in the North East of France who are supplying a malthouse in Antwerp and a brewery in Leuven initially, with the resulting Leffe beer due to hit shelves in France in early 2021.

Should the trial prove successful, AB InBev will explore the feasibility of extending the blockchain platform to more farmers, malthouses and breweries. It is notably striving to ensure that 100% of its direct farmers are skilled, connected and financially empowered by 2025 and would like to apply these learnings to non-direct actors as well.

“This new barley blockchain pilot is the latest initiative in our focus on smart agriculture: using new technology, data and insights to improve our farmers’ use of natural resources, crop yields and livelihoods,” AB InBev’s VP of procurement and sustainability Erik Novaes said. “We’re excited about the potential to bring this project to our European growers, and to show beer drinkers where the barley in their Leffe is from.”

Track and trace

PwC has highlighted blockchain as one of the ‘essential eight’ technologies that will play a crucial role in tackling climate issues and the technology as has also been heralded as a transformative way to digitally track supply chain activity by techUK.

Given that agri-food supply chains are often multi-tiered and multinational, with most end-user businesses not having direct contact with all farmers, the sector is primed for blockchain applications.

Earlier this year, Princes introduced QR codes to its tanned tomatoes and tuna, which provide information from its blockchain and GPS mapping programmes when scanned. The process is similar to that being implemented by brands like Ben & JerrysSainsbury’s and Unilever-owned PG Tips.

One of the most recent blockchain pilots comes from the Estee Lauder Companies. The cosmetics giant is working with ingredient supplier LMR Naturals by IFF and one of its Madagascan vanilla suppliers Biovanilla, as well as blockchain scale-up Wholechain, to introduce traceable vanilla to more than 100 Aveda-brand products.

Sarah George

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