The topic of blockchain is a much-discussed one, in certain circles especially in connection with cryptocurrencies. However, blockchain is much more than just Bitcoin and co. The digital, decentralized and resistant technology is also a perfect fit for commerce, where it acts as a trust system thanks to the traceability of data in real-time. The benefits are very high, especially in combination with automated data capture. Below, we look at the combination of blockchain with automated data extraction through two practical examples: On the one hand, how retailers and food safety can benefit, and on the other, how baristas can assure their customers that the coffee they prepare is 100% authentic.

Food safety as the top priority for traders and retailers

When we do our shopping in the supermarket, we expect clean, fresh and, above all, safe products when it comes to foods such as fruits and vegetables or even meat products, without having to think much about what we are consuming. Every year, bacteria, viruses, parasites and toxins cause millions of cases of food poisoning, mostly in poorer countries. But even in this country (Switzerland) and with our high standards, food poisoning can occur due to impure products. The food system is complex, with farmers, producers, processors and various suppliers involved in the chain. For the retailer, the entire supply chain must always be clearly visible in order to be able to react quickly in the event of any contamination. But this is often where the problem lies. It can take several days before a product can be traced and removed from the market. So there needs to be much more transparency in the processes in order to be able to react more quickly. This transparency can be achieved with the help of blockchain technology. Thanks to the digital and decentralized ledger, transparent collaboration between all those involved in the supply chain are possible. Product data and certificates can be “uploaded to the blockchain” in real-time, where they are safe from changes and thus from potential fraud and counterfeiting. This benefits everyone involved. And to make it even easier for them, the blockchain is combined with automated data capture. This means that the product data does not have to be manually captured by the involved parties and prepared for the blockchain; instead, an intelligent, AI-based OCR (Optical Character Recognition) takes care of this automatically by classifying documents and identifying all relevant data, extracting it in seconds and making it accessible in the blockchain in real-time. All this data extracted by the AI-based OCR and collected in the Blockchain gives the retailer valuable insights to present not only a safe but also a sustainable food chain to its customers. Through the transparency provided by the blockchain combined with automated data extraction and processing via AI-based OCR, products can be traced back to their direct origin. This means that if a problem suddenly arises, for example in the form of contamination of a specific food product, it is possible to react in the shortest possible time and remove the affected product from the market, which would otherwise normally take several days and, in the worst case, customers would catch food poisoning. Furthermore, thanks to the automated recording of all collected data in the blockchain, the retailer can make sure that the products were grown sustainably or that, for example, in the case of meat, the animals were not given antibiotics and so on and so forth.

Where does my coffee come from?

More and more people are thinking about the origin and quality of the coffee at the barista they trust. What the safety of the products is for food, the origin and sustainability is for the coffee. Thanks to the combination of blockchain with data capture automated by OCR software, all processes in the supply chain can be traced. The retailer can thus assure his barista that these beans are 100%  Colombian in origin, for example. Based on this transparency and authenticity, the barista builds trust among his daily customers and fosters loyalty to his café.

So the benefits of blockchain go far beyond cryptocurrencies, and the opportunities in commerce are considerable. The transparency that traceability provides creates security against contamination, fraud, and against counterfeiting; it is reliable in sustainability and in production. And in combination with the additional simplification of automated data capture using AI-OCR, the requirements are kept simple and the know-how of those involved is kept to a minimum.