- A mobile app using the Farmer Connect traceability platform powered by IBM Blockchain was announced this week at the 2020 CES conference in Las Vegas. The "Thank My Farmer" app will give consumers the ability to trace their coffee beans with an interactive map, according to a release.
- Developers of the app include J.M. Smucker Co., Volcafe Specialty Coffee Corp., RGC Coffee, Beyers Koffie of Belgium, the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation, Japanese trading firm ITOCHU Corp., Dutch beverage company Jacobs Douwe Egberts, Rabobank, Swiss coffee trader Sucafina and Norwegian chemical firm Yara International.
- U.S. and Canadian consumers will first be able to access the app by scanning QR codes on the 1850 Coffee brand of premium single-origin coffee from Folgers, owned by Smucker. It will appear on other well-known coffee brands in coming months.
The traceability app could check some major boxes for the legions of coffee drinkers out there, as well as for those who grow, roast, import and sell beans. As consumers increasingly look for more transparency about where their food and beverages come from, this app traces where the beans originated and could boost coffee sales for participating companies.
Blockchain tracks products as they travel through the supply chain, so it can help enhance consumer confidence in the source and quality of what they eat and drink. More companies have been turning to this technology in the past year. This past spring, Albertsons joined the IBM Food Trust, a blockchain-based food and supply chain solution, to track romaine lettuce after several foodborne illness outbreaks. Kroger, Walmart, Dole, Driscoll's, Golden State Foods, McCormick, McLane, Tyson Foods and Unilever also use the IBM Food Trust solution.
The new technology can follow an individual bag of coffee beans from delivery to the cup, according to Farmer Connect. The plan is to use farmer IDs to track growing conditions, record transactions and follow yields and sales prices. The project foresees roasters eventually being able to digitally track the full supply chain and importers being able to improve trading strategies. By the end of this year, they may be able to set farmer agreements, send payments and follow coffee supply trails using this technology, Farmer Connect said.
This isn't the only method of tracking coffee. A Colombian-based technology firm is taking a similar route with its bilingual iFinca app developed by India-based Debut Infotech. iFinca uses blockchain to connect producers and others in the supply chain, verify purchases and make production more efficient. It also aims to boost slumping prices paid to coffee farmers to above the cost of production by giving farmers more visibility and voice in the supply chain, which could also be a result of the new Thank My Farmer app.
In the U.S., 64% of adults drink a cup of coffee daily — up 2% from 2017 and the highest level since 2012, according to a 2018 survey from the National Coffee Association. More of Big Food is getting into coffee through acquisitions and by introducing new products as a result of this increased consumption, and apps like these could help companies stand out among the competition. Smucker has been investing in its 1850 Coffee and Folgers brands through recent marketing campaigns, and it's the first to be launching the Thank My Farmer app QR codes on its products in the U.S.
For coffee companies, these new apps could enhance traceability and sustainability credentials — qualities consumers look for when choosing from the myriad brands available in today's marketplace. According to National Coffee Association statistics referenced by Financial Times, two-thirds of consumers ages 19 to 24 want to purchase sustainabily grown and responsibly sourced products.