Soon, when Starbucks customers order their morning joe or buy a bag of roasted coffee, they may be able to learn exactly where the beans come from and the name of the farmer who cultivated them. Starbucks says over 380,000 farmers sold it their beans last year but now the company wants coffee cravers to learn the details of that sourcing through a two-year pilot program tracing the process from bean to cup. The pilot will start with growers in Costa Rica, Rwanda and Colombia.
Traceability plays an increasing role in supply-chain sourcing, something that can be done more easily done with blockchain than with individual software systems around the world that aren’t networked. There are still questions about what Starbucks’ program, announced late last month, will look like and how it will be used, and the plan is short on details including the underlying technology.
“We are exploring all technologies, including blockchain,” a company representative tells ThirtyK.
The plan is “to develop next-level data technology to log and share real-time information along the journey of coffee beans with the aim of driving positive impact to smallholder farmers within its supply chain,” Starbucks wrote in its about the project. The company says it will use an open-source approach to share what it learns from the pilot program with the rest of the world.
The aim is to use the technology to give coffee farmers more financial empowerment and independence. Transparency for the customer and grower accountability are other perks. “From unpredictable climate changes to commodity price volatility, farmers continue to face multiple challenges in a global marketplace,” Jean Nkunzimana of the MISOZI Coffee Cooperative in Rwanda is quoted saying in the announcement. “With identity being the foundation of traceability, farmers have been able to leverage the value of being identified to create a credit history of the value of their production, as well as an acknowledgment of their self-worth.”
A Steaming Cup of Cryptocurrency
Earlier this year, Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ executive chairman, told his company could be one of the first to have a proprietary cryptocurrecy in its mobile app. “I think blockchain technology is probably the rails in which an integrated app at Starbucks will be sitting on top of,” he said.
Starbucks wouldn’t be the first coffee industry player using blockchain or cryptocurrency, though. , a Denver-based company, developed and is now piloting machines it places near coffee farms. The machines can analyze coffee beans and weigh them, documenting the information on the blockchain. Potential buyers can make farmers offers and coordinate cryptocurrency payments. A few foreign companies also are developing blockchain technology for .
However, in the U.S. coffee companies have remained mostly mum about using blockchain or cryptocurrency. Dunkin’ Donuts, Peet’s Coffee and Philz Coffee didn’t respond to ThirtyK emails seeking comment. But in a February ’ earnings call, Chief Financial Officer Kate Jaspon spoke of bitcoin (), not as something the company will use, but as an example of the current uncertain environment and the difficulty in predicting the future.