Cargill is a big name in turkeys in the United States: when Americans sit for Thanksgiving dinner this week, there's about one in four chance that they will dig into a Cargill bird. The company based in Minnesota is an old-school company; founded in 1865, it sells a good old school product, since Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving from the 1800s.
But just because a company is old school does not mean it can not be at the forefront, even if what it is selling is turkey. And so last year, Cargill launched a first plan to put turkeys on the blockchain. Cargill's birds arrived equipped with a tracking code based on blockchain technology.
After receiving a turkey and having scanned his barcode, the buyer was able to learn all sorts of things about the turkey – including information on the farm where he was bred, pictures of the turkey before he arrived for dinner and even data on the farmer who raised the turkey.
"Blockchain is one of those technologies that are interrupted in many ways," said Debra Bauler, chief information officer of Cargill Protein, in an interview with Shop Talk. "There are things that push him into food: it's safe, distributed and irrefutable, there's a lot in it that made sense to play in the food space".
The program has been quite successful that this year Cargill is expanding it, and it will be easier to get your hands on a turkey blockchain in the Jewel-Osco and Walmart stores nationwide. According to Cargill, around 3,500 stores across the country will have traceable turkeys for sale. In all, about 200,000 Cargill Honeysuckle White brand turkeys have codes on their packs that consumers can use – via text message or on the Honeysuckle White website – to learn more about the complete story of the rooting bird .
Of the 700 farms with which Cargill signs contracts, 70 farms in Missouri and Texas participate.
The goal, according to Bauler, is to stay updated with the needs and requirements of customers for a more local and farm-to-table culinary experience and a more personal relationship with their food. In particular because Cargill is trying to add value without adding costs. About a third of all Honeysuckle White's fresh turkeys are traceable this year – a big leap compared to 5% last year. Those turkeys cost exactly like the two thirds that are not traceable.
And the program, according to Cargill, is bound to expand because it is not only popular among consumers, who have had the opportunity to learn more about their birds, but with farmers, who liked to have the chance to hit "an emotional rope" "with the people who would like to eat their birds. And although consumers do not tend to want a thorough understanding of the life and death of the main Thanksgiving dish, they are interested in knowing that the bird has been "bred well" according to Kassie Long, the brand manager for Honeysuckle White.
"Consumers want to know that the people who are raising them are good people," said Long.
In recent months, Blockchain has become an increasingly magnetic force, particularly for those working in the food supply chain. The ability to direct upload information on a product en route to shelves in a virtual ledger that can be modified has gained much traction as a possible solution to traceability issues in the food industry, as well as potential solutions to common problems such as incorrect labeling and counterfeiting.
There are, however, those who are skeptical that the blockchain as a tool to track food supply will be increasingly widespread: the concept is not familiar and unusual, the costs associated with it are too high and it is not known whether consumers are actually interested in the data being offered.
"Many consumers in surveys say they are interested in traceability but they do not translate into" I need this product to be trackable or I will not buy it, "said Euromonitor research analyst Dewey Warner at Chicago Tribune. It could have a future like a niche market – very similar to that of organic products – starting from very small and expanding as it became more familiar and economical.
Others, however, have noted that the project is a step forward and that greater traceability in the food supply chain will lead to better results for everyone, from consumers to traders and suppliers.
And a Thanksgiving turkey – the traditional centerpiece of the annual dinner that people take care of perhaps more than any other meal – could be a good place to allow buyers to take a closer and personal look at their purchase. It could make that unfamiliar concept a little more familiar.