From Farm to Truck to Table (Fr8 network and Founding Farmers)

The path food takes from farm to table should be simple, right? Unfortunately, this is not reality: the food industry is frustratingly opaque, and the shipping process is rife with inefficiency. Not only do farms, restaurants, and grocers suffer from logistical inadequacy, customers eat food at risk to their health. How can the industry solve such pervasive problems? Transparency is the answer.

Where food comes from

Food Safety Net Services defines “food fraud” as the act of intentionally misrepresenting, altering, substituting, mislabeling, or tampering with any food product along the food supply chain. When people order from restaurants or purchase from grocery stores, there is remarkably limited information regarding the products’ origins. Customers do not always know what they are getting, and transparency is essential for making well-informed decisions.

Several food fraud experts believe that one way to prevent dishonesty is for employees to whistle-blow when they notice wrongdoing. This practice would require legal protection for employees who are worried about losing their jobs, so if they divulged food tampering to the public without incentive not to, consumers could hold restaurants accountable.

It’s also up to establishments to be responsible and open with their customers. Farmers Restaurant Group, for instance, makes a point to be transparent with its customers:

“We successfully add value and unbundle the supply chain by offering the freshest, sustainably grown ingredients we can find to serve in our restaurants. As such we choose the flour to make our bread from the state mill in North Dakota, our dairy products are farm fresh, we press our own juice daily for use throughout our food and beverage menus, [and] we prioritize sourcing from family farms as opposed to corporate farms. “

It is Farmers Restaurant Group’s mission to serve customers family-farmed and scratch-made food. The company also partners with the North Dakota Farmers Union in an effort to compensate farmers more fairly. FRG’s transparency also incentivizes other restaurants to be honest (and therefore practice sustainability, which are worth promoting) because they highlight the fact that most companies are not. Consumers want transparency now more than ever, so they gravitate towards Farmers Restaurant Group establishments (like Founding Farmers in Washington, D.C.) because they enjoy knowing where their food comes from and feeling good about it—and then they will demand it from other food providers, too.

Fixing the supply chain

The process of moving products from one place to another is more arduous than it should be. According to the company Fr8 Network: “Every year, millions of competing entities across the supply chain rely on an intricate fleet of trucks, ships, planes, and trains to transport approximately 92 billion tons of physical goods. By 2023, the global logistics industry will be valued at $15.5 trillion.”

The global logistics industry affects everyone, but it is dependent on manual and ineffective processes that leave room for fraud and oversight. Most carriers are small businesses, but brokerage companies often charge high fees. These carriers would coordinate their own freight routes and schedules if they could, but data is siloed behind walled gardens in a centralized system that prevents them from exercising their agency. In the case of terrestrial freight, trucks drive billions of miles every year empty or partially full, which wastes billions of dollars, time, and gas.

Brandongaille reports that the top industry goods that terrestrial freight transports include agricultural products (82.7 percent) and dairy, fruit, vegetables, and nuts (92 percent). These products run the risk of spoiling if a delivery is late, and restaurants and grocers lose money if they do not have sufficient inventory to sell to customers. Air and oceanic freight suffer from centralization as well, so poor coordination endangers products no matter where in the world they come from.

Optimizing freight logistics is Fr8 Network’s mission. The company employs a blockchain-based platform to connect carriers, suppliers, and independent brokers directly with one another, removing the need for expensive intermediaries. Blockchain is a decentralized public ledger, so Fr8 Network’s users will be able to see a wealth of information they previously had limited access to including shipments, load sizes, payment histories, prices, actor reputations, locations, and more. When parties have critical information, they can dramatically reduce unused capacity and enforce punctuality.

Fr8 Network also enables pragmatic automation. Human error causes ripple effects that impact everyone along the supply chain, but blockchain “smart contracts” incentivize responsible performances and ensure payments are not made until deliveries are completed. Fr8 Network’s platform welcomes all shipping professionals, but it particularly benefits food products that cannot afford squandered time.

When people sit down to eat, they should know that their food came from ethical sources and reached them safely. Consumers deserve transparency, so companies like Fr8 Network and Farmers Restaurant Group are actively working to provide it for them.