IBM helps Wal­mart use tech to track fresh veg­gies

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Business - BY MICHAEL CORKERY AND NATHANIEL POP­PER New York Times

When dozens of peo­ple across the coun­try got sick from eat­ing con­tam­i­nated ro­maine let­tuce this spring, Wal­mart did what many gro­cers would do: It cleared ev­ery shred off its shelves, just to be safe.

Wal­mart says it now has a bet­ter sys­tem for pin­point­ing which batches of leafy green veg­eta­bles might be con­tam­i­nated. After a two-year pi­lot project, the re­tailer an­nounced Mon­day that it would be us­ing blockchain, the type of data­base tech­nol­ogy be­hind bit­coin, to keep track of ev­ery bag of spinach and head of let­tuce.

By this time next year, more than 100 farms that sup­ply Wal­mart with leafy green veg­eta­bles will be re­quired to in­put de­tailed in­for­ma­tion about their food into a blockchain data­base de­vel­oped by IBM for Wal­mart and sev­eral other re­tail­ers ex­plor­ing sim­i­lar moves.

The bur­geon­ing blockchain in­dus­try has gen­er­ated a great deal of buzz, in­vest­ment and ex­per­i­men­ta­tion. Cen­tral banks are ex­plor­ing whether it would be good for track­ing money flows. East­man Ko­dak has ex­plored a blockchain plat­form that could help pho­tog­ra­phers man­age their col­lec­tions and record own­er­ship of their work, while a group of re­porters and in­vestors are us­ing the tech­nol­ogy to start a se­ries of news pub­li­ca­tions.

But es­sen­tially the only real-world uses have come from cryp­tocur­ren­cies such as bit­coin, which use their own blockchain­s to store trans­ac­tions. Wal­mart is now try­ing to bring blockchain into the lex­i­con of every­day con­sumers.

“It is the first real in­stance of do­ing this at scale,” said Brigid McDer­mott, vice pres­i­dent of IBM Blockchain.

For Wal­mart, the ini­tia­tive fits squarely into two key strate­gies: bol­ster­ing its dig­i­tal savvy and em­pha­siz­ing the qual­ity of its fresh food to cus­tomers.

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