Bumble Bee Foods Aims to Put All Its Fish on a Blockchain. It’s Starting With ‘Fair Trade’ Tuna.

March 8, 2019, 5:00 PM UTC

Bumble Bee Foods is using blockchain technology to trace yellowfin tuna from the time it’s caught to the moment it hits store shelves.

The San Diego-based seafood giant has been running the program for about a month on its “fair trade”-certified frozen tuna brand, Natural Blue by Anova. The tuna is sourced from small-scale fishing operations based on east Indonesian islands and it is set to go on sale in the U.S. in the coming weeks.

“We’ve been doing traceability for a long time and we decided to leverage new technologies to make it even more secure,” said Tony Costa, Bumble Bee’s chief information officer. “Quite frankly, we’re just scratching the surface on the capabilities of the technology in our supply chain.”

Mislabeling and fraud are rampant problems in the seafood industry. A study published this week by Oceana, a marine conservation nonprofit organization, found that 1-in-5 fish tested by the group was incorrectly labeled.

In Bumble Bee’s deployment, consumers will be able to scan QR codes on the 12-ounce bags of ahi tuna steaks to learn more information about each product, including where it originated, which community caught it, the size of the catch, and how it came to be certified as fair trade.

The program is just the start of a more ambitious project underway at Bumble Bee. “We have some goals starting in 2019 to start migrating all Bumble Bee branded products” to a blockchain-based system, Costa said. Other product lines include Brunswick, Snow’s, Wild Selections, Beach Cliff, and, in Canada, Clover Leaf.

Bumble Bee is using blockchain tech supplied by SAP, the German software maker, and based on a so-called private distributed ledger, called “multichain,” developed by engineers at Coin Sciences, a startup based in the United Kingdom.

Supporters of enterprise blockchains say they tend to work best in situations where people want to share tamper-resistant data among many parties. Critics of the technology argue that it offers little in the way of improvement over traditional database software; still other critics say the technology doesn’t truly qualify as a blockchain unless it is public and open and has a cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin, tied to it.

Steven Kim, senior director for SAP’s digital customer initiatives, said that blockchain tech was a great fit for the seafood industry because the supply chain involves many intermediaries—typically seven or eight—ranging from safety inspectors to food processors to customs agents to grocery stores. With SAP’s system, “every participant sees the data in real time—that’s power of the blockchain,” he says.

Bumble Bee is not the first company to apply a blockchain to its supply chain. Walmart has mandated that its suppliers must use a blockchain to trace leafy greens, such as spinach and lettuce, this year. Meanwhile, in the financial world, JPMorgan Chase has developed a blockchain-based virtual currency, called JPM Coin, for institutions and clients to test.

Other companies have tested tuna-tracking on a blockchain too. Among the testers: a startup called Viant ran a demonstration last year, and another startup, UK-based Provenance, has run pilots as well.

Retailers carrying the first batch of Bumble Bee’s blockchain-traced tuna include Albertsons, Hy-Vee, Price Chopper, and Safeway.