If you’re a conscientious eater, you’ve probably noticed that right now just about every meat company is making the same claims—all natural, cage free, hormone free, to name a few. But getting more information—that is, the stories behind the labels—is a real challenge. It’s no wonder that consumer irritation with product labels is at an all-time high. The farmers in our cooperative are frustrated, too. We’re trying to produce healthier, more responsible foods, but highlighting how our farmers and butchers and their values are different has been a real challenge. To combat my own discontentment, I did some research about market trends. Here are a few things I learned:
According to a 2017 Edelman study, we are in the throes of “a profound crisis in trust,” with regard to our perception of media, governments, businesses, and several other institutions that—until fairly recently—have been venerated by our society. In this era of mass information, we’re inundated with stories, many of which are at odds with each other. So, it’s easy to understand our growing skepticism.
The food industry may feel the affects of this universal distrust more than any other. This Label Insights study revealed that 75% of the people they polled do not trust the accuracy of their food labels. Additionally, their research concludes that 83% of Americans “have a strong desire to better understand what’s in their food products.” So, what does that mean for the future of food in this country? Our producers have to improve their practices and the ways they communicate in order to win back the trust of consumers.
To accomplish this, Grass Roots has recently begun work with a transparency-focused tech group in the UK, Provenance, whose blockchain-backed platform allows values-based brands to make their products more transparent. Blockchain is a relatively new technology that allows for public verification of information. For our purposes, users can track a package of chicken along our supply chain and learn more about the people who helped craft the final product. Our hope is that by telling consumer the stories behind how their food was raised—and by verifying them in a peer-to-peer network—we can integrate trust into relationships that may otherwise be fairly transactional.
Outside of the financial sector, blockchain hasn’t been implemented by many industries. But most folks in the tech world believe that won’t be the case for much longer. In a poll of 308 executives whose businesses make at least 500 million in annual revenue, 55% of respondents said that “their company would be at a disadvantage if they failed to adopt [blockchain] technology.”
One of the most exciting applications of this technology is that it give supply chains the opportunity to be totally conspicuous, which is increasingly important to consumers. How does this impact conscientious eaters? They will have the opportunity to learn the exact origins of their foods and to support the companies that commit to their practices and products transparent.
This is a total breakthrough for the small-scale, sustainable farmer. Until now, it’s been a struggle for us to tell the story of why our foods are different from those raised in feedlots and large chicken houses. With blockchain, we can show you. We can prove exactly who raised the animal and how it was raised, how many animals were raised in its batch and how they lived, and who the butcher was and how it was harvested. And all of this farm-to-fork information is authenticated by a technology that’s virtually unhackable.
Right now we’re testing Provenance’s technology and its applications with a few of our wholesale customers. Cases of chicken distributed by San Francisco-based Golden Gate Meat Company are labeled with QR codes that link to the story—like this one—of the meat they contain. If this tool proves to add value to our community of conscientious eaters, we’ll integrate it on all our product packages, including those we sell through our ecommerce platform.
In an age where skepticism may very well be at its peak, Grass Roots is working to improve access to information so that customers feel empowered by their choices, not encumbered by them. We hope that by verifying our foods on the blockchain, we establish trust that allows our customers to eat with confidence.