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It Was Just a Matter of Time: Beerheads Are Becoming Blockheads

AB InBev

There was a time when the most important question about beer usually was: “Who’s getting the next round?” But now, apparently, some beer drinkers are interested in the supply chain that brings them their favorite beverage. Those are the ones who are likely to ask, “Who grew the barley for this beer?”

At least that’s what AB InBev and others in its industry believe. In Europe, the world’s largest beer brewer today said it is rolling out a new program that uses blockchain technology to track its end-to-end supply chain. It is geared in particular to the 40% of its farming base that it does not work with directly.

“As supply chain transparency becomes increasingly important for ensuring the quality and security of raw ingredients and the efficient use of natural resources, this pilot will begin by linking barley farmers in the northeast of France with one malthouse in Antwerp, Belgium, and the Stella Artois brewery in Leuven, Belgium, using one, scalable, blockchain-based technology platform,” the company explained in a statement. “Through this platform, AB InBev will begin to aggregate and benchmark data to help indirect farmers improve their yields and environmental footprint.”

That makes perfect sense for a multinational company that wants to improve visibility all through its supply chain. But AB InBev also will include a QR code on packaging that allows Josef Sixpack to learn from whence their beer was born. “Today’s consumers are demanding more transparency than ever before as they make more informed choices about the brands they choose and the products they consume,” said Yves de Beauregard, head of global incubation at Fujitsu, which is collaborating with AB InBev.

“For the first time in our European operations, this project will create a fully transparent, indirect supply network all the way to the end-consumer,” noted Pieter Bruyland, CIO for Europe at AB InBev. “By connecting players across the beer supply chain — from farmers, malting cooperatives, breweries, warehouses and carriers — to one secure, decentralized platform, we can increase traceability and gather data that will help us to continue to grow the finest ingredients for our beers sustainably. What’s more, this blockchain technology can link beer fans all the way back to the farm — from the barley field to the beer drinker.”

Elsewhere in Europe, a Northern Ireland company is even using blockchain traceability as the main draw for its line of “Downstream” beers.

But it’s not just in Europe where some beerheads are turning into blockheads. Oracle a couple years back announced it was working with a California microbrewer to implement blockchain to monitor its supply chain. “There’s the cool factor — I want to see how my beer was produced,” Prasen Palvankar, a senior director of product management at Oracle, said at the time. “But more importantly, things that will affect businesses are recalls, issues with raw materials [and] issues that may happen during transportation.”

Speaking of supply chain, anyone want to order some food with the next round? Consider it research: Major food companies such as PepsiCo, a maker of bar snack favorites like pretzels and chips (among a few other things), are embracing blockchain, too.