Agritech startup Ripe.io secures $2.4 million in financing. Can this help the company change the food industry with blockchain?

Ripe.io is a cutting-edge Agritech business focused on improving the transparency of food-related supply chains using blockchain technology. Recently the company secured $2.4 million in financing from an impressive cast of companies including Maersk Growth, the venture capitalism arm of the world’s largest shipping container company and Relish Works, an Illinois-based food innovation company. Ripe.io’s President, Phil Harris, believes this round of financing is transformative, explaining, “[it] takes a little company and enables [us to realize all of] our big ambitions.”

Meet ripe.io

Harris, as well as cofounder and CEO Raja Ramachandran, spent much of his career in financial services, but made the switch to form Ripe Technology (now known as ripe.io). As Harris and Ramachandran learned of blockchain’s benefits to financial services businesses, they quickly realized the potential for blockchain in other industries. “One of the things we saw early on was that blockchain could [be applied] beyond [the] financial [industry],” says Ramachandran. They discovered that one of the most inefficient industries that would benefit most from blockchain technology was the food supply chain. Ramachandran explains some of the issues and what they meant to him personally. “Food fraud, food safety, [how to determine] what constitutes quality, and even things like spoilage management.” “[it gave us the opportunity] to look at something that affects us daily, not only ourselves, [but] our families [and] our communities.”

First Pilot Project

Fulfilling the company’s vision wasn’t possible without blockchain.Transparency into supply chains is a huge win for the food industry. One of ripe.io’s first pilot projects was on Ward’s Berry Farm. According to Bloomberg, “Ward’s Berry Farm, a 180-acre farm southwest of Boston, where the fields overflow with carrots, baby beets, bok choy, chard, kale, cabbage, sweet potatoes, onions, radishes, fava beans, squash, pumpkins and zinnias, which farmer Jim Ward keeps in rotation because his wife loves it when he brings them home to her in a fresh bouquet.”

New to the farm, however, were blockchain tomatoes. “Their ripeness, color and sugar content were tracked step by step, reducing spoilage and documenting the supply chain.” Ripe.io tracked 200 tomatoes on 20 different plants in early and late season fields. IoT (internet of things) sensors tracked several different factors in the environment including humidity, air temperature and even light. The sensors didn’t stop there. As buckets of tomatoes were sent off and loaded for distribution in trucks, another set of sensors tracked the humidity where they were stored on their journey. Overall, this project known as the “Internet of Tomatoes,” allowed ripe.io to collect a significant amount of data and use it to grow better tomatoes and even get chemistry readings on tomatoes. Ramachandran describes this as “hundreds and hundreds of data elements that comprise why a tomato turns out the way it does.”

Is it just the data that’s important?

Harris explains the food industry has complicated supply chains. “You have the labs, the distributors, the certification, the food safety, the restaurants…our observation was that they weren’t really connected in any meaningful way [because] the data wasn’t being shared [and there was] very little collaboration.” In the food industry, as discussed in Clabby Analytics’ blog, there are many inefficiencies in food supply chains that consumers should be aware of. Harris himself acknowledges poor efforts to digitize food. In other industries, we see that consumers can buy items online and have them delivered through the entire supply chain process in a matter of days. “[It’s] what the internet has done around information-sharing — what we’ve seen companies like Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Spotify and Pandora do for music, books and television. [Digitization takes] interaction with consumers to another level.”

Although food is a little more complicated in terms of two-day shipping, digital shopping and showcasing could be the next big thing. Harris calls data that is stuck in different silos that Ripe.io is consolidating together a “food bundle.” Jenny Splitter of Forbes, describes this as “a bundle of food-related data — can then be shared with all of the participants in the blockchain, which could be a cattle rancher in Texas or a beef buyer for Walmart. Ramachandran explains, “If you’re able to get participation and collaboration from all the farmers, distributors, the people who play a part in all this, [you’ll] have better ways to showcase that food.”

With Ripe.io and its efforts to take their food blockchain global, the food industry will likely see some huge changes soon. “We’ve designed…Ripe.io and its platform, the “blockchain of food,” to serve the entire food industry, from farm to fork, to the ingredients companies [like] meat, fish, dairy, pork, fruits and vegetables.” Now with partners like Maersk backing the company, ripe.io looks to expand and continue to disrupt the industry.

Summary Observations

In today’s Digital Age, we are seeing technology change the way companies are doing business in order to stay competitive. In the food industry, there was a huge push for higher quality and organic foods, and companies like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods came along to deliver upon that demand. Consumers are told foods are grown organically, are antibiotic free and are better quality than comparable food at another local grocery chain, but how do they know? Clabby Analytics believes consumers will demand higher accountability for big businesses, asking for evidence to support these types of claims. As blockchain is increasingly adopted it will provide transparency into supply chains and transactions in all different kinds of industries.

For example, blockchain technology paired with IoT sensors in food offers food-related businesses the ability to provide consumers a level of visibility that has never been available before. With smartphones, it is now possible for consumers to scan products pre-purchase, seeing a history of everything from the temperature a tomato was stored at throughout its journey to what kind of pesticides or chemicals were used while it was being grown. When conducting research, Ramachandran was surprised at how willing food suppliers were to begin to share more information about quality. “These companies [you might think] would want to keep those doors sort of closed, it’s actually quite the opposite.” With cooperation of every party involved in supply chains and the development of food consortiums, we are seeing huge changes in the food industry enabled by blockchain technology.

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