Starbucks to develop coffee tracking blockchain platform

May 07, 2019 12:20
Through Microsoft's blockchain services platform, Starbucks is exploring the role of digital traceability in empowering coffee farmers. Photo: Bloomberg/Reuters

Starbucks will tap Microsoft’s Azure Blockchain Service to build a coffee tracking platform, according to Microsoft.

The Seattle, Washington-based coffee giant will use the blockchain technology that underpins bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to monitor the journey of its coffee from farms to stores to the customer’s cup – and to connect the people who drink it with those who grow it.

The news came as Microsoft rolled out this week its new cloud services for making technologies such as artificial intelligence and blockchain easier for businesses to use.

Starbucks plans to develop a feature for its mobile app that will provide customers with information about where their packaged coffee comes from, from where it was grown and what Starbucks is doing to support farmers in those locations, to where and when it was roasted, tasting notes, etc.

“I firmly believe that by empowering farmers with knowledge and data through technology, we can support them in ultimately improving their livelihoods,” Starbucks senior vice president of Global Coffee & Tea, Michelle Burns, said in the announcement.

“This kind of transparency offers customers the chance to see that the coffee they enjoy from us is the result of many people caring deeply,” Burns said.

Powered by Microsoft’s Azure Blockchain Service, the coffee tracking platform will allow supply chain participants to trace both the movement of their coffee and its transformation from bean to final bag.

Each state change is recorded to a shared, immutable ledger providing all parties a more complete view of their products’ journey.

Starbucks said last year it wanted to pilot "bean to cup" traceability and transparency with a new technology solution, which would allow select coffee farmers in Costa Rica, Colombia and Rwanda to share real-time information along the journey of their coffee beans.

With an aim to give coffee farmers more financial empowerment, Starbucks said it worked with more than 380,000 coffee bean farms last year.  It pledged to open-source the pilot program and share what it learns.

The global coffee chain has been investing heavily in digital innovation. Last year, it announced it was working with digital asset trading platform Bakkt, owned by Intercontinental Exchange Inc., to develop applications that would enable consumers to convert their digital assets into US dollars for use at Starbucks.

At Microsoft’s software developer conference in Seattle, the two companies also presented other joint initiatives including predictive drive-thru ordering and connecting Internet-of-Things-enabled equipment at different store locations.

Announced last Thursday, Microsoft’s Azure Blockchain Service is a cloud-based blockchain-as-a-service (BaaS) platform aimed at streamlining the use of consortium blockchain networks, from creation to modification, for businesses and software makers.

Microsoft said the platform supports Quorum, the in-house blockchain technology of JP Morgan Chase. The bank had built Quorum internally using the Ethereum network, one of the most popular public blockchains. The initiative was seen as a noteworthy endorsement to Ethereum, the blockchain behind cryptocurrency ether.

– Contact us at [email protected]