With a popular delicacy like its ahi tuna fished out of Indonesian waters, the seafood company is relying on blockchain technology to give its customers the level of supply chain transparency they need.

Tony Costa, senior vice president and chief information officer of Bumble Bee Seafoods, shows off a luscious-looking filet of seasoned, line-caught ahi tuna packaged raw in the clear plastic pouch of his company’s Natural Blue by Anova brand.

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Tony Costa, senior vice president and chief information officer, Bumble Bee Seafoods

Then he goes into the details of what it takes to get that tuna from the boats of Indonesian fishermen through multiple steps until it arrives at a local market in, say, Chicago or Denver, then lands on a kitchen counter in a restaurant or private home. The Indonesian fishing waters are so far off, he says, that keeping records of where and when fish is caught, frozen and packaged—then shipped through multiple points—is a challenge for any supply chain system. (He notes that personally traveling to the Indonesian fishing area from the United States takes a full day via a major airline, then two short flights and a boat ride.)

Tracking fish from boat to kitchen

With that kind of distance between his company’s products and its customers, Bumble Bee set out last year to rework how it manages its supply chain and provides critical information on seafood freshness and quality to its buyers, Costa says. “The biggest challenge we have is transferring information to our customers,” he says, adding: “They’re most worried about recalls.”

A new blockchain-backed supply chain system from business software company SAP SE, Costa says, is giving Bumble Bee the ability to quickly handle any recalls. In a global system Costa and other executives oversee, fishermen and distribution workers label and scan bar codes on fish packaging, sending data on each step of the supply chain into a blockchain cloud-based ledger system. “We have the ability to track fish the moment it’s caught and as it travels around the world,” he says.

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The company can check its supply chain records to identify within minutes critical details for each package of seafood it sells, Costa says, including the fishing community and crew, the date and time a fish was caught, the distribution centers that forwarded it, and the restaurant or retail store that bought it. In the case of a retail store, Bumble Bee can work with a merchant’s point-of-sale system data to also uncover details about a final sale to a consumer. The system also maintains fair-trade fishing certifications designed to ensure competitive payments to suppliers.

A leap of faith for blockchain

Bumble Bee started in September 2018 to deploy a new supply chain tracking system using the SAP Cloud Platform Blockchain service and other business operations software from SAP. It took about five months for the project to go live in February 2019. It also took a leap of faith, Costa adds.

“It may be the latest and greatest technology, but we didn’t know if blockchain would work,” he says. The ability to record and access critical supply chain information, however, became apparent during its initial project, winning the support of Bumble Bee’s top management. The company is considering expanding the blockchain system to additional operations, he adds.

“We’ve had supply chain transparency before,” Costa says, “but not at this level of detail.”

San Diego-based Bumble Bee, which is privately held, doesn’t release figures on its revenue or the cost of deploying its supply chain technology. But the new blockchain system is helping the company both build a stronger system of trust with its suppliers and stand out as a provider of seafood to buyers, Costa says.

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Bumble Bee’s Natural Blue by Anova fair-trade certified ahi tuna steaks can be found in a 12 oz. bag at retailers across the U.S., including Albertsons, Hy-Vee, Price Chopper and Safeway.

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