AB InBev trials blockchain to track and trace barley supply chain

20 million metric tons of malting barley are grown each year | Credit: AB InBev

Brewing giant reveals new plan to help curb the environmental impact of its supply chain

Leffe beer drinkers will soon be able to find out where the barley in their beer was grown by scanning a QR code on the pack, brewing giant AB InBev has announced.

A pilot launched last week by the company, which is one of the largest global buyers of barley, is to use blockchain technology to give beer drinkers a better understanding of the provenance of the ingredients in their beer, while helping northern European growers’ improve their barley yields and environmental footprint, AB InBev said.

A scalable, blockchain-based technology platform developed by Belgian tech company SettleMint will gather and benchmark data from barley farmers in the north east of France, the Stella Artois brewery in Leuven, Belgium, and a malthouse in Antwerp, Belgium, the company explained.

The data crunched by the platform will help farmers boost their yields, improve soil health, and enhance the efficiency of their water and energy use, all while providing consumers with direct insights into the supply chain behind the beer.

The pilot is to be rolled out across AB InBev’s Leffe brand in France first, with a QR code on packs set to reveal a view of the farm where the barley in the beer was grown, reaped, and malted, it said.

“For the first time in our European operations, this project will create a fully transparent, indirect supply network all the way to the end consumer,” explained Pieter Bruyland, CIO for Europe at AB InBev. “By connecting players across the beer supply chain – from farmers, malting cooperatives, breweries, warehouses and carriers – to one secure, decentralized platform we can increase traceability and gather data that will help us to continue to grow the finest ingredients for our beers sustainably,”

SettleMint, which is headquartered in Leuven, Belgium, was introduced to the brewing giant during a European Commission Horizon 2020 event geared at pairing start-ups with corporates.

The start-up’s cofunder and chief executive Matthew van Niekerk emphasised that the pandemic had underlined the need for companies to boost the resilience and transparency of their supply chains. “Providing transparency to consumers is not only a guaranty of quality, it also delivers enhanced trust in the brand,” he said. “Covid-19 has demonstrated a clear need for more resilient supply chain management systems and blockchain delivers on this.”

Meanwhile, Yves de Beauregard, head of global incubation at Fujitsu, which is supporting the initiative, noted that consumers were “demanding more transparency than ever before” in order to make informed purchasing decisions.

“Fujitsu is at the forefront of track and trace technology and is pleased to collaborate with AB InBev on this pioneering initiative, which will use leading edge technology to help assure the discerning beer drinker as to the provenance of the ingredients used in their favorite brews,” he said.

AB InBev explained that the pilot was specifically designed for the 40 per cent of farmers it works with that are not in its ‘direct’ farming base, noting that it is already working to improve the productivity, profitability, and sustainability of the 20,000 growers it works with more closely with investment in improved agronomy skills, tools, and research.