Purpose: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one out of 10 people get sick from eating contaminated food. Complex food production processes and globalisation have made the food supply chain more delicate. Many technologies have been investigated in recent years to address food insecurity and achieve efficiency in dealing with food recalls. One of the most promising technologies is blockchain, which has already been used successfully in financial aspects, such as bitcoin, and it is attracting interests from food supply chain organisations. As blockchain has some unique characteristics, including decentralisation, security, immutability, tokenisation, and smart contract, it is therefore expected to revolutionise the food supply chain. Blockchain only started to gain the attention of the supply chain researchers in recent years. The current research is mainly conceptual, based on emerging empirical research. This research explores the application of blockchain in food supply chain management. It investigates why food companies implement blockchain in reality, including the motivations and the concerns. In addition, it explores how such companies implement the blockchain in food supply chain management.
Research method: First, a content-analysis based literature review in blockchain adoption within food supply chain is undertaken. The researcher reviews 58 of the papers most related to this topic and lays a solid ground for further research. Then a multi-case study method is adopted to investigate the issues and opportunities within the food supply chain, and how food companies apply blockchain technology in their food supply chains. This research uses a theoretical sampling approach to investigate how food companies adopt the blockchain applications in supply chain management. The selected food companies are expected to have both strong interests and mature implementation in blockchain, have engaged with multiple supply chain stakeholders, and are willing to share their detailed implementations. Three food companies based in Australia, China and the Netherlands are selected to conduct interviews. After the interviews, each case is summarised by within-case analysis with company background, supply chain issues, blockchain implementation stages, benefits of blockchain, and barriers. Next, a cross-case analysis is conducted to compare the three cases. By applying the innovation process model and the practice-based view (PBV), the discussion chapter critiques the similarities and differences in the decision making and implementation processes of the three cases with existing literature.
Findings: Following the innovation process model, this research deconstructs the implementation process into four steps (setting the stage activities, customer clue-gathering activities, negotiating, clarifying, and reflecting activities, and inter-organisational learning).
Moreover, based on the PBV, which suggests that transferable company behaviours can influence a company's competitiveness, this research identified four key success factors (capabilities, collaboration, technology readiness, external environment). Next, four categories of barriers (intra-organisational, inter-organisational, systems-related barriers, external barriers) and the benefits are also summarised.
This research introduces seven propositions and a conceptual framework to unite the identified constructs. The seven propositions are: 1) The identification of business needs is the
requisite for blockchain adoption; 2) Sufficient blockchain knowledge and pilot adoption are essential for large-scale success adoption; 3) Pre-existing trust, benefits and risk sharing can lead to successful multi stakeholder engagement in blockchain adoption; 4) The blockchain system should keep updating according to the change of needs. 5) The successful adoption of blockchain can bring at least six benefits (efficiency, transparency, accountability, digitisation, resilience, and sustainability) to food supply chains; 6) There are usually four types of barriers that need to be overcome during blockchain implementation; 7) Blockchain implementation positively relates to supply chain performance by improving supply chain efficiency, transparency, accountability, digitisation, resilience, and sustainability.
Contributions: This research makes a number of contributions to both theory and practice. From the theoretical perspective, this research is one of the first to empirically investigate blockchain in food supply chain management, and proposes an united conceptual framework based on the case findings and the literature. This research provides empirical evidence to verify academic findings such as critical success factors and barriers, but more importantly identifies the implementation process to answer the ‘how’ question. The research is one of the first to adopt the innovation process model and the PBV in food supply chain and blockchain studies. Thus, built on the original model and theory, this research enriches the theories to blockchain implementation in food supply chain management. Specific subconstructs are identified to advance the theories of the innovation process model and PBV. Finally, practical suggestions are provided to food supply chain focal firms, suppliers, and third parties.<br/