Yum! Blockchain and broccoli — a tasty combination.

Farm to table… and who knows where in between?

The number one consumer demand in the food industry is transparency. People want food they can trust — so they want to know what’s in their food and where it comes from.

Meanwhile, in an apparently different universe, there’s a ton of buzz about blockchain and how it’s turning the finance world upside down.

But can blockchain technology also enable the transparency consumers crave in their food? In short, yes.

The always thought-provoking @mikel_ee from Future Market announced six new concept food products this week, including Block Birds — “the first, fully transparent supply chain line of chicken products verified by Blockchain technology”.

Essentially, the entire journey of the chicken, from egg to grocery store, is recorded on the blockchain — and made plainly visible by being printed on the packaging. People who buy Block Birds have access to the entire life story of the chicken that they’re about to eat —bringing a whole new level of transparency in food.

This is not a brand new idea. IBM, Walmart and more have already made noises about using distributed ledgers to trace the steps food goes through before people eat it. But Mike does a great job (as ever) of painting a vivid and inspiring picture of what this could ultimately mean for the end consumer. The main point is: Big Cos and startups alike are going to make this happen — it’s inevitable. And when the blockchain for broccoli finally arrives… expect the food industry to turn as upside down as the finance industry is right now.

The pattern of more information changing food purchasing behavior is already established. Food labels today are flawed — but the information provided no doubt helps consumers make better choices, changing market dynamics in this decade dramatically.

It can be horrifying to look at a food label today and see the myriad of ingredients — many that you even can’t pronounce — that go into the simplest things. My friend Nona Lim makes amazingly delicious soups, broths, noodles and more — and her ingredient list stacked up against the competition is mind blowing…

Nona Lim Soups, vs the competition.

Thanks in part to this level of transparent information, consumers now flock to products with simpler ingredient lists — foods they can trust — creating a multitude of new category winners in the process. RXBar is probably the best example to date. They cleverly took things a step further and made sure their simple list of ingredients became integral to the visual identity of the company. I love their bars, but I love the packaging even more — and so did Kellogg’s who recently acquired the startup for $600M because it’s what consumers want.

RXBar. A simple, transparent list of ingredients.

In the near blockchain-enabled future, we will be equally horrified to see all the processing steps that so much of our food has passed through? And just as consumers today actively search for food products with the fewest number of ingredients, and ingredients they can understand, will consumers tomorrow choose foods with the fewest steps, and with the most understandable path, from farm to table?

At Square Roots, we often say “If you know your farmer you can trust the food”. Said another way, people want food with the fewest and most understandable steps between farm and table.

Slide from the Square Roots farm tour talk.

With typical industrial food, there are so many layers between the farmer and the consumer. Agents and processors, and manufacturers and wholesalers and retailers… the list goes on. And every one of those steps adds time before the food gets to you — industrial food can takes weeks, even months to get to you — meaning the food has to be grown to travel, not for nutrition or taste.

All that information will soon be available to everyone thanks to blockchain. And producers not jumping onboard, not providing that level of transparency, not actively working to change their supply chain to reduce the number of steps before food gets to the end consumer, will be in trouble. A big change is coming…