As more food companies start using blockchain, processors, retailers and consumers will be able to access information about the path food took to get from the field to the plate.
And while traceability is good, it leaves out one major factor that consumers care about when they buy food: How does it taste?
“No matter how sustainable it is, or how it is accessed, taste is the first criteria," Riccardo Accolla, director of digital food science for Ripe.io, told Food Dive. "If it doesn’t taste well, a consumer is not going to buy it again, a producer does not want to produce it again.”
Ripe.io, which uses blockchain and similar distributed ledger technology to track food products through the supply chain, is branching into tracing flavor. Last week, the company announced a partnership with FlavorWiki, which has a digital app for consumers to evaluate taste.
Accolla said the partnership will allow clients to find out how their products taste throughout production and the supply chain. As it is getting started, this partnership will focus on fruits and vegetables. Producers, retailers and consumers will be able to get insight letting them know exactly how a product tastes at every step in the food chain — as well as how long it's likely to taste good.
“No matter how sustainable it is, or how it is accessed, taste is the first criteria. If it doesn’t taste well, a consumer is not going to buy it again, a producer does not want to produce it again.”
Director of digital food science, Ripe.io
Daniel Protz, CEO of FlavorWiki, told Food Dive the partnership can help solve one of the pervasive problems in agriculture: the lack of consistency. He said producers, retailers and restaurants want to know more about how a product that was harvested in Africa will taste by the time it gets to a European consumer’s plate — especially the attributes that aren't obvious from looking at it.
“It looks and tastes and feels exactly like the consumer wants,” Protz said. “And that's not so easy for them to trace through that whole distribution chain where you might be going from, ‘OK, this tastes great and it's juicy. It's got the right profile that we want’ to, ‘Hey, wait a second, it came to the next location and now it's really not good.’ ”
While different entities along the supply chain would benefit from that information, Protz said it makes sense to organize it in some sort of flowchart. Blockchain, he said, is an ideal way to make the information as useful as possible because it contains so much traceable information.
Accolla gave the example of a tomato producer using the system. Through blockchain, data could be captured indicating the soil composition and weather where it was grown, as well as the steps it took through the cold chain and storage facilities. But using FlavorWiki’s taste data, the producer could find out how consumers react to the taste as it moves through the system, pinpointing the freshness and taste peak, as well as best practices for cultivation and transportation.
FlavorWiki’s taste platform meshes well with this incremental tracking system. While most traditional taste tests are done using panels, ranking systems and complex statistics, FlavorWiki has a simple app-based interface where consumers choose between two different ways to describe a product — such as which flavor is more intense, or which attribute the consumer notices first.
Protz said the ease of the app and the sophisticated prediction algorithm makes it possible to get immediate statistically significant feedback on the taste of food. It can easily be used on products throughout the supply chain, and incorporated to pinpoint tastes of a single variety of apple with different growing and storage conditions, or reformulated CPG products.
While the partnership is going to concentrate on produce now, Accolla said Ripe plans to eventually expand to CPG companies looking critically at their ingredients. This could help a manufacturer who is testing a new ingredient, looking to replace an existing one they already use or searching for something that is more sustainable. For example, he said, it could help a company choose between two farms producing organic vanilla. It could also be used to verify the source and taste of an ingredient that is often faked, or even used to help tailor products to consumers.
“It could create a permanent record of data around personal nutrition, but we’re not quite there yet,” Accolla said.
Ripe is touting the service to existing clients. Accolla said there has been quite a lot of industry excitement about the partnership, especially among those who are more consumer facing, such as grocery stores, restaurants and meal kits. While blockchain and taste analysis are both individually popular, Ripe and FlavorWiki are the first to blend them.
“We are all extremely excited to be bringing these two worlds together,” Accolla said.