Out on the field and onto shelves: Pioneering trust with The Co-op

The Provenance app showcasing the journey of fresh produce and its data through the supply chain.

What’s the future of sustainability certifications? Can we track food in real time, through a supply chain, to empower customers with data they can trust? We gather words from Co-op’s Lawrence Kitson and Cathryn Higgs, as well as our own team at Provenance, on collaborating to help the UK’s largest consumer co-operative pioneer a new standard for trust in the food industry.

Starting with a shared mission

“Openness, honesty and social responsibility are part of our Co-op ethical values.” shares Co-op Head of Food Policy Cathryn Higgs. “We’ve started exploring ways we can deliver on this policy using digital and one of the ways we are doing this is by looking at partners who are already leading the way.”

The Co-op x Provenance partnership began with shared values and a mission for radical transparency. It didn’t stop there though, with our first pilot completed, and a continued desire to raise the bar and collaboratively set new standards for the industry.

“The Co-op is committed to being radically transparent. A decade ahead of the government’s traffic light system, we campaigned for food and nutrition labelling that’s clear and easy to understand.” explains Lawrence Kitson, Service Designer and Product Manager at The Co-op. “Being transparent still matters. But how do we make sure the Co-op stays ahead of the curve when it comes to building trust from transparency in the digital age?”

The Provenance x Co-op team investigating the supply chains of fresh produce throughout the UK.

Through supply chains across the UK

Integral to the pilot was getting data into the Provenance system, in real time, at various supplier and Co-op locations. “There were technical challenges but we aimed to integrate as seamlessly as possible without interrupting day-to-day activities.” Explains Provenance CTO Ian Kynnersley. “I would say that receiving very open cooperation at each stage was key in us understanding the data and processes we had to work with.”

On top of quantitative data, we also collected more personal, qualitative learnings. We held workshops with product managers, joined the agriculture managers’ team day, and immersed on-site at farms across the UK to really learn about the challenges we could help customers overcome, as well as the type of data that would make for relevant, inspired product stories for Co-op members.

Gathering and analysing product data at producer and supplier locations.

Stories and journeys to trust

Data from the farm, through the factory, linked with systems data at Co-op depot and retail, built a real-time digital history for the fresh produce. From a consumer point of view, that means accessing a unique URL for each specific batch, accompanied by data gathered from all along the supply chain, with proof attached.

How does this differ from existing product data systems and communications today? The answer is in the word trust. “We’re working with Provenance, a social enterprise using blockchain technology to enable transparency of data and verification of claims in supply chains.” explains Ms. Higgs. This is “in order to tell verifiable stories about where our food comes from and how it gets from source to our shops.” Provenance connects existing, siloed data systems in a way that ensures data isn’t duplicated or corrupted – meaning produce with verified sustainability or authenticity claims can’t be sold twice, and the proven claims can be tracked in real time down the chain.

How Provenance works, real-time tracking a product (and key claims) from origin to point of sale.

A supplier collaborates on a product story on Provenance and Co-op store staff shows product information in-store via the Provenance app.

Values in the digital age

This pilot is only the beginning of our journey towards radical transparency. Although we have a lot more probing, building and validating ahead of us, we’re glad to have planted the seeds for cultivating trust in the digital age, where marketing slogans are no longer able to substantiate product claims on their own.

Our work with the Co-op is sustained by values of openness and honesty – the exact same values to power radical transparency, and drive a renaissance in retail where trustworthy information trumps all.

“Marketing used to be about creating a myth and selling; now it’s about finding a truth and sharing it.”

Marc Mathieu, SVP Marketing, Unilever