From Honduras to Thailand and Vietnam

October 5, 2020

From Honduras to Thailand and Vietnam:  

Tracing your shrimps’ roots 

The issue of traceability in shrimp supply chains isn’t new. Shrimp may well be small in size, but the industry itself is huge, diverse, and difficult to map. Several new technologies are being employed by companies to aid traceability and provide increasingly trustworthy data on the products consumers put in their shopping baskets. Two such technologies are IdentiGEN’s DNA TraceBack® solution and the use of blockchain technology in supply chains.
Traceability and why we need it

Traceability goes beyond ensuring a product is what it says it is and comes from where it says it does – being able to trace a product back to its source can also go a long way to showing how the product was produced, how it was moved, and what it was fed. When something goes wrong in a supply chain, traceability is about being able to find and fix the problem with the least possible challenge, damage or risk. It also allows companies (and governments when necessary) to find the source of the problem, identify all affected shrimp, and quickly remove them from the market, no matter where they have ended up.

Different countries go about ensuring traceability in different ways. Using the European Union as an example, since 2002, the General Food Law Regulation has required all food businesses to dive into traceability by following the principle of “one step back, one step forward”, i.e. a business must be able to trace a product back to the immediate supplier and identify the product’s subsequent recipient through data being provided at each part of the supply chain.

The increasing interest in traceable and sustainable products is also largely driven by greater demand from the consumer side. Customers are becoming more inquisitive, and are demanding answers to questions such as “Where is the product from?” and “Can you prove it?” The consumer craves trust, and traceability has become a way for businesses to answer these questions and, ultimately, provide a guarantee for the end consumer that the company’s “story” is true. In our 2019 ShrimpTails Poll, our shrimp industry professional respondents thought

that a consumer-focused marketing campaign would be more successful if focused on health (71%), sustainability (59%) and traceability (26%). But the question still remains as to how you can best convince your customer that your healthy and sustainable product is actually your product. Currently, various sustainability seals exist, both catering to industries and consumers, to demonstrate a product’s trustworthiness in areas such as production, transportation, sustainability and cold-chain management.

Trust is an important factor when trying to sell a product to consumers, as shown by a 2018 PwC report asking “Whom do consumers really trust?”. In a survey of over 22,000 consumers, participants were asked about the various factors that influence their decision to shop at a particular retailer. More than one third (35%) of the participants ranked “trust in the brand” among their top three reasons. The report goes on to highlight the importance of traceability, stating that “trust can be earned through transparency regarding sources/suppliers and ingredients.” Applying this to our current post-COVID context, consumers have an even greater need to trust the products they’re buying, to know where they’ve come from and how they’ve been produced, and consumers are increasingly turning to digital means to access this information. Consequently, technological solutions to communication, data collection and supply chain control are giving businesses new ways to increase their perceived trustworthiness. The food industry is responding with various new technologies to meet this demand and provide new levels of product traceability.

How technology can transform traceability

IdentiGEN is one example of a company working to increase traceability and transparency by means of new technologies with its DNA TraceBack® solution, a method that puts digital and technological ways of tracing products at the forefront of increasing consumers’ trust in the products they buy. This principle has been adopted in the partnership between IdentiGEN and Seafresh Group, as well as in its partnerships with other companies. As Carol Scott from IdentiGEN told us, “This programme will give guaranteed transparency to Seafresh Group customers, and will ensure that what they are buying originates from approved sources and meets the required standards in terms of production practices,” whether or not this customer is the end consumer.

The Seafresh Group, which sources from farming operations in Honduras, Thailand

and Vietnam, has sustainability at its core and promises its customer a high-quality and sustainably produced shrimp. In order to build a relationship of trust between the company and its customers, and also to prove the reliability of its operations, back in 2016 the Seafresh Group engaged IdentiGEN and its DNA TraceBack® solution to monitor and trace its shrimp supply chain in Honduras.

Lasse Hansen, CEO of Seafresh Group, told us that “the unprecedented levels of supply chain transparency [provided through DNA TraceBack®] help us convey more effectively to our customers and the consumer the care we take to meet the growing consumer expectations for top quality, sustainable and ethically sourced seafood products.” As we move into the second half of 2020, the first totally DNA traceable Vietnamese and Thai Seafresh Group products are set to hit the US and UK markets. 

How DNA TraceBack® works 

Companies intending to implement DNA TraceBack® must first of all commit to creating a closed supply chain. Whether the decision to implement DNA TraceBack® is made by a retailer or a processor, whether we are talking about shrimp or another animal protein, the supply chain from “fork to farm” must commit to only using products from pre-approved sources. Once the commitment is made, a “DNA reference database” can then be established.

In the case of IdentiGEN and Seafresh Group, they mapped out the shrimp being produced in the various regions Seafresh Group operates in. For Honduras, Thailand and Vietnam, this was done using a combination of parental and pond sampling.

Using IdentiGEN’s DNA TraceBack® solution means that when Seafresh Group’s shrimp undergoes sometimes heavy processing at third-party facilities – and remarkably even after cooking – the DNA remains unchanged. IdentiGEN then samples the finished product at the distribution or store level and traces it back to its exact farm origin. If there is a “no-match”, the Seafresh Group team investigates how and why.

Overcoming regional supply chain differences

Seafresh Group operates farms in Central America, and in Asia. These regions have different supply chain characteristics. A less vertically-integrated supply chain (mostly found in Asia) means that there are far more farms and middlemen involved. In Central and South America, there are generally fewer companies operating, providing a less “diverse” supply chain (for example hatcheries, farming and processing operations are often integrated within one company). You can read more about the regional differences between production styles in our ShrimpTails article.

Seafresh Group saw the challenge presented by the complexity of regional supply chains as an opportunity to prove the closeness of its own supply chain. For the DNA TraceBack® solution to work, cooperation and long-term partnerships along Seafresh Group’s supply chain were essential, something it already had in place and testament to the level of organization and control that already existed.

Blockchain’s online bulletin board 

DNA TraceBack® technology is continually expanding its reach and coverage, but so does the blockchain system. Today, many major shrimp retailers (such as Walmart) have adopted this system to increase the level of transparency in their products. More commonly known for its role in Bitcoin, blockchain is increasingly being used in the supply chains of agribusinesses. As we wrote in the September 2018 edition of ShrimpTails, which focused on innovation in the shrimp industry, “blockchain could be seen as an online bulletin board not managed by a single entity, but by a group of people in a particular supply chain. People can keep track of and add information to this bulletin board,

which needs to be validated by other people in the group.”

One of the major advantages of blockchain is that the amount and range of information entered into the bulletin board can be customised. This information is then verified and encrypted into tamper and manipulation-resistant “blocks”. When there are so many variables, this system allows for “all” of them to be documented and shared.

Blockchain also facilitates a nice marketing story: the consumer can simply scan a QR code on their shrimp product and visualise each step in the series of blocks, telling the end consumer about the journey their shrimp has been on.

The building blocks of trust and loyalty

The DNA TraceBack® platform and blockchain both rely on supply chain cooperation to work effectively; each actor along the route has to play their role. While IdentiGEN’s DNA TraceBack® combines DNA tracing with data analysis, blockchain works with small, encrypted and secure “blocks” of information entered by actors operating along the supply chain, and then verified by third-parties.

Both provide a level of traceability and certainty for the consumer in notoriously opaque industries. When one of these technologies is used by a company, information is catalogued and cross-checked at each step of the journey, which goes a long way to demonstrating

supply chain cooperation and traceability, in turn helping to build consumer confidence.

For Seafresh Group, the DNA TraceBack® solution provides an unbreakable, scientific link between the shrimp and the farm it originated from, no matter where that product ends up. Traceability is a building block for achieving trust. And once trust is achieved at consumer level, it becomes easier for the product to sell: trust not only creates brand awareness but – more importantly – it leads to brand loyalty.

To learn more about IdentiGEN or the Seafresh Group, follow these links to their company websites.

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