Blockchain innovation in the cocoa supply chain

By Anthony Myers

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: GettyImages
Pic: GettyImages

Related tags blockchain Technology

Technology is creating consumer expectations on privacy, trust and traceability and cannot be overstated, said mobile and digital marketing guru Tom Daly. His answer? Blockchain.

Cocoa has a big data problem, Tom Daly told delegates at the recent Cocoa Merchants Association America conference in Miami.

Big data problems are hard to crack, and simplicity is much easier said than done, he told delegates. “Transparency demands simple, trustworthy answers to simple questions, which relies on a common understanding, common standards without which there is no transparency​.”

Daly is a former global head of mobile & search marketing at The Coca-Cola Company and founder of Relevant Ventures. He believes that technology can find the solutions to problems. He said he recognized that in the cocoa sector there is a unique set of circumstances to overcome.

Different sets of data

The scale of data is enormous, individual companies gathering different sets of data in different ways, leads to veracity issues and makes consumers and everyone in the supply chain uncertain about the value of data gathered​,” he said.

Blockchain and food traceability

Blockchain is a digital, decentralized (meaning it is not controlled by one central authority) ledger that keeps a record of all transactions that take place across a peer-to-peer network in real time..

In the food supply chain, for example, Blockchain becomes a distributed database that holds records of digital data or events in a way it can’t be tampered with. While participants in a blockchain may access, inspect, or add to the data, they cannot alter or delete existing data. The original information stays put, leaving a permanent and public information trail of transactions. It provides a single version of the truth about transactions and activities occurring across complex supply chain ecosystems. Traceability is potentially a great application for this technology.

Source: Forbes 

He said the consumer world is experiencing a shift from a data economy to a personal information economy, as prompted by Facebook, and brands need to rethink their notions of loyalty.

Daly told the CMAA that the reality is that services will sign up to consumers, rather than the other way around. “Uber, for example, will ask me to sign up to my profile and I will control who has access to my information​.”

He said that brands using cocoa as an ingredient are going to be more subservient to the consumer.

To solve the issues he called for more ‘co-opetition’ in the industry and welcomed the fact that some companies have formally began to gather around the table, including Mars and Hershey, in order to crack the code on supply chain transparency in the cocoa sector.

The industry has sometimes come in for criticism for acting too slow on traceability and other sustainable issues, but Daly compared transparency to a ‘moonshot’, akin to getting men to the moon and back. “There is no silver bullet, it’s going to take years to solve and companies have to be realistic​.”

Trust is paramount, privacy will be paramount and it’s going to have a protocol … called ‘Blockchain’​.

He said that transparency is a societal challenge, and consumers are the new enforcers of business practices, shifting from the regulators. “There is no tomorrow, AI (Artificial Intelligence) is no longer an avant-garde concept, it is a reality that businesses need to prepare for. Trust is paramount, privacy will be paramount and it’s going to have a protocol … called ‘Blockchain’​.”

A supply chain that stops at the retailer is incomplete, he said. “The choices they [consumers] make about products they want to buy; where they will spend their money; and enter their cash into the supply chain and goes all the way up to the farmer is going to be contingent on whether or not they get the data they want, they believe it when they get it – and get it when they need it, which is exactly at the point of purchase​.”

Artificial Intelligence is shaping interactions. Smart labels on products acknowledges control in the transaction between the consumer and the brand, he informed delegates.

The ability to use a smart device, scan a QR code with enhanced label information, where, when and how consumers want is a sign of the shifting balance of power.

Competitors need to co-operate to crack the code, he said. Companies know that these technologies are transforming expectations – of themselves and the expectations consumers have of their businesses.

But where and how? is the big question. The paradox of marketing today is it is easy to connect to​ consumers, incredibly difficult to connect with​ consumers.

Tom Daly
Tom Daly

Brands have less control about decisions consumers make about retailers, where they buy chocolate bars, for example, so brands have less control on interactions consumers are having with them​.”


As an example of blockchain in action, he highlighted ‘Fishcoin,’ a seafood traceability platform powered by the technology. He said by answering a simple question that people want to know regarding where their seafood comes from, he said it incentivizes supply chain stakeholders to share data from the point of harvest to the point of consumption. “They do it through a complex set of data to provide a simple answer to a simple question​.”

Harnessing technology can help the traceability in the food supply chain. It is complicated and unpredictable, collaboration is required, but it is not going to be optional, and neither is going to be a straight path, participants will come and go, he warned.

His advice to the cocoa industry was to start with smallest data sets as possible; information about the source of a product should be delivered in minutes, not months.

Finally, he mentioned the ‘K’ word. “Accept change, don’t become a Kodak​,” he told the company heads gathered in the room.

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