Princes turns to blockchain to minimise supply chain sustainability risks

International food and drink firm Princes has unveiled a sweeping new set of measures to make its supply chain practices more sustainable, including a pledge to use blockchain to ensure workers' rights are protected.

Princes turns to blockchain to minimise supply chain sustainability risks

100% of the Italian-grown tomatoes Princes processed in 2018 have been sourced from farms with independent ethical accreditation

Launched under a new partnership with Italian agricultural group Coldiretti, the scheme will see Princes pay a premium to tomato farmers who use environmentally sustainable methods and have strong schemes in place to prevent worker mistreatment.

Farmers will also be offered guaranteed three-year supply contracts and access to a ring-fenced grant scheme if they agree to work in line with Princes’ sustainability standards. Specifically, the company’s framework states that farmers must invest in agronomic technologies which reduce water and pesticide use, or face being removed from its supplier portfolio.

A new addition to the framework, announced in Rome on Tuesday (12 February), is a requirement for all Coldiretti farmers to use a blockchain platform which will enable Princes to monitor their practices more closely.

Acting as a digital ledger, the blockchain platform creates a verifiable audit trail that can be used to trace products through the supply chain and track workers’ safety rights. In this way, Princes will be able to take action to improve any ‘hotspots’ for environmental or social breaches throughout its Italian supply chain.

This partnership demonstrates our commitments to ensuring growers in our supply chain are economically, ethically and environmentally supported across southern Italy – but we believe it can also enhance the reputation of the Italian tomato industry as a whole,” Princes’ corporate relations director David McDiarmid said.

“This agreement reflects the shared desire that exists for innovation and change to historical ways of working in the tomato supply chain.”

Technology and traceability

The launch of the partnership comes shortly after Princes, which owns brands such as Napolina and Flora, announced that 100% of the Italian-grown tomatoes it processed in 2018 had been sourced from farms with independent ethical accreditation through either Global GAP, GRASP or SA8000 accreditation.

The company notably processes around 300,000 tonnes of Italian-grown tomatoes every year at its plant in Foggia – an amount which covers all of its Napolina branded products and own-brand lines.

In order to achieve 100% certified tomatoes, Princes has conducted more than 4,000 in-field inspections at its supplier farms to date. The firm also uses GPS mapping to trace the movement of tomatoes throughout its supply chain during the annual harvest, via tracking devices on its trucks.

Princes is just one of a string of food and drink brands using digital technologies to bolster its supply chain practices.

Marks & Spencer (M&S), for example, recently launched an online mapping tool which allows consumers and investors to track every supplier it uses for seafood. The map shows where the seafood was caught, the catch method used and whether the fishery is certified by an organisation such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). It was launched after the retailer developed a similar tool for its beef and dairy farmers in 2016.

Elsewhere, the likes of Unilever, Sainsbury’s, Nestle and Walmart are currently investigating how blockchain can be used to minimise sustainability risks in food supply chains and reward sustainable farming practices.

Sarah George

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie