Documenting the grain-to-glass journey with blockchain
By ATB Financial 13 January 2020 5 min read
The term farm to fork is often thrown around, but many may be surprised to know just how many fine details there are behind it.
An Alberta-grown crop will eventually make its way into a food or beverage product, but the logistics to track every detail of the process could cause a few gray hairs. Luckily, there’s blockchain, a tamper-proof, open-source ledger, where anyone can view detailed ingredient information like growing region, suppliers, and even harvest or production batch details. These tracking measures are quickly becoming seen as a valuable supply chain management and food safety tool in agriculture. Not only can the blockchain technology identify the source of a product recall, but it also does so in record time, serving as a regulatory advantage. What used to take weeks to figure out now can be determined within minutes. Blockchain also offers a data collection system that cannot be manipulated and due to its digital nature, may cut down on administrative cost and burden in the process.
In agri-food, blockchain enables technology that helps the value chain understand how to trace ingredients from start to finish as businesses and producers look to establish premium products in a potentially crowded marketplace. In today’s market, a growing number of consumers want to know exactly what is in their food, where it came from, and whether they can trust it. Embracing transparency and traceability, blockchain is a reliable and credible record of ingredient origin and quality for consumers.
As our technological world continues to morph into a global village, suppliers and distributors in the food and beverage value chains have become more and more invested in product traceability. That rings true at Canada Malting, the company behind a very unique beer collaboration that can be traced from grain-to-glass. Brewed by Last Best Brewing and Distilling, Bock Chain is a German-style lager that was crafted in association with an Alberta farm and its offshoot valued-added business Red Shed Malting.
The malting barley for Bock Chain was grown by John Hamill of Hamill Farms, tucked just off the west side of Highway 2, south of Red Deer. It was then malted at the on-farm micro-malthouse by his son Joe. His other son, Matt, marketed the grain, which eventually made its way to Last Best’s head brewer Natasha Peiskar in Calgary.
The entire process took about 11 months and was overseen by TE Foods, a German tech company specialized in blockchain operations related to food and beverage operations.
According to Matt, showcasing grain to glass for consumers through beer was a simple and delicious way to pique their interest in the agri-food supply chain and highlight Alberta’s agricultural scene.
“Farmers are doing so many good things but just haven’t told the story of it,” he says of the proof-of-concept project. “Just to be able to tell the story of it and what we’re doing well, there’s definitely value in that.”
Being an early adopter of a blockchain beer, Matt believes this is likely only the beginning and says those who jump in now will be rewarded.
“You’re going to start to see more pressure from consumers,” he says. “For a while, there’s going to be a premium, but eventually it will just become more of a standard.”
That new standard includes collecting scads of data throughout the process. For Bock Chain, it started at the farm with John meticulously documenting his seed varieties, germination rates, protein levels and his input applications of nitrogen and other macronutrients. One step further in his sustainability process, he recorded dates, times and rates of various crop protection products he applied to the crop itself.
From there, the raw barley was tested at a licensed facility before being trucked to Canada Malting. In a one week process at the malthouse, it was processed, cleaned, steeped, germinated and later kilned. Finally, it was shipped back to Red Shed Malting where it was roasted and bagged before making its way to Last Best. It’s an airtight process that has no room for hiccups. Attention to detail is equally as prevalent in the brewing process as it is the logistics to ensure consumers receive a quality product.
“I was surprised in terms of the logistics,” she says. “What stands out in my mind is how involved the shipping has to be. Everything has to be accounted for. It was definitely an intensive project.”
Last Best played arguably the biggest role in closing the loop and bringing the product to consumers. Once brewed, the beer was canned and labeled with graphics that featured a QR code, scannable by consumers that would connect their smartphone to a microsite detailing the entire process.
“One of the things that we were … pleasantly surprised by was just the public reaction,” she says. “Consumers saw the whole thing come together. The younger generation is growing up with this technology—we only traced one ingredient for a batch of beer. The future is where consumers see everything that goes into a batch.”
Back at Hamill Farms, the value-added agriculture of growing barley, malting it and then sending it directly into the craft beer supply chain has proven to be a case of the right time, the right place for the farm family. With today’s consumer savvier and more curious than ever, Matt believes that Alberta agriculture is on the early end of something tremendously exciting thanks to blockchain.
“The demand is there, we just need to combine it with an education piece, too,” he says. “We’re definitely seeing the trend that consumers are interested in the food they’re putting into their bodies and people pay such a premium for the best features.”
Blockchain represents an opportunity for serious producers and agribusinesses, to position themselves as both early adopters and industry leaders. By getting out ahead of the pack, these organizations will stand out in a crowd and, despite the extra work involved, will see gains through logistics efficiencies and the potential of marketplace premiums on products that can be traced from farm-to-fork, or in this case, grain-to-glass. Cheers.
If you want to see the farm-to-glass journey for yourself, check out the Bock Chain page on TE-Foods.
Knowing you’re able to draw on ATB’s expertise could help you understand and act on opportunities when they become available. And that’s what ATB is all about, providing ways for Alberta businesses to evolve and thrive. Learn more about our offerings and how we can help.
Bock Chain video was produced and provided by TE Foods and was not made or owned by ATB Financial.