Lately, people want to know more about their food than ever before. Was this meat grass-fed or corn-fed? Was this apple grown locally? Did this chicken have many friends?
Oslo-based ThinFilm uses Near-Field Communications (NFC) to allow smartphones to read information like this with a tap of their phones. Brand partners stick ThinFilm’s SpeedTap tags on their products, and when a consumer scans the tag with their phone they’re lead to a database with detailed product information and marketing deals. While they have chiefly worked with costmetic, pharmaceutical, and fashion companies, they’re hoping to apply this tech to food safety and traceability the next few years.
Recently, they took steps towards this goal by launching CNECT Blockchain Services; a tool which could integrate blockchain into product information to promote food transparency for both the consumer and the supplier.
“With blockchain, provenance is a big deal,” ThinFilm’s Chief Commercial Officer Christian Delay told me over the phone. “The challenge that a lot of people have is if there’s food safety issues or recall issues it’s hard to determine if you have a contaminated package or not.” Retailers or food safety inspectors can use ThinFilm’s tech to scan the tag on a specific food product and get information about it, including where it was made, how it was transported, and even how it can be recycled.
They’re not the only one using blockchain (or, at least, talking about using blockchain) to trace the food supply chain. FoodLogiQ just launched an innovation hub to pilot projects applying blockchain to increase food safety, and Ripe.io is working to build “a Blockchain for Food.”
But according to Delay, ThinFilm’s tech could have grand applications beyond food safety. “It could even give customers a recipe or preparation tips for the food they scan,” said Delay. “It’s a way to enable brands and manufacturers to forge a direct connection with people buying their products.” So if you scanned the tag on a flank steak, you would not only know where the cow was raised and whether it was corn- or grass-fed, but also get a recipe and tips on how to best slice the cut of meat.
Delay even pointed out that their tech could be used to reduce the price of an item that was about to go bad. Once you bring food home, the expiration date would link up to the server and alert you with a timer when your food is ready to go bad. Sort of like what Ovie tags do, but virtual — though, at this stage, this is all theoretical.
Brands can either pay per unit for use of the ThinFilm tags, which includes access to their information-sharing database, or they can pay a flat subscription fee to license both. So far their scanning tech works automatically with Android phones, but iPhone users will have to download an app.
As of now their CNECT Blockchain Services are on the market with companies in three trial verticals: wine, spirits, and meat (specifically, Australian beef). All are in stealth mode, though Delay promised that they would reveal the identity of the wine company shortly. If the pilots are successful and they continue to expand their markets, we might soon be able to see if the chicken on our plate was, indeed, well-liked by his chicken friends.