Ripe.io And Its 'Blockchain Of Food' Secures $2.4 Million In Funding

By Jenny Splitter

Ripe.io wants to use blockchain technology to transform the food industry, and it just received a major influx of cash to do it. The agritech startup just secured $2.4 million in financing from investors like Maersk Growth, the capital venture arm of the Danish shipping container conglomerate Maersk, and Relish Works, a Chicago-based food innovation hub.

Cofounder and president of Ripe.io Phil Harris has high hopes for this newly secured round of financing: “[it] takes a little company and enables [us to realize all of] our big ambitions.”

Both Harris and his cofounder and CEO Raja Ramachandran came to the food industry from the financial world — Harris from Nasdaq and Ramachandram from an industry consortium called R3CEV — before coming together to form Ripe Technology, Inc. or, as it’s come to be known, Ripe.io.

“One of the things we saw early on was that blockchain could [be applied] beyond [the] financial [industry],” says Ramachandran of the company’s early beginnings.

The two decided on food because they saw an industry plagued by a number of problems, including “food fraud, food safety, [how to determine] what constitutes quality, and even things like spoilage management.” Plus, food, of course, is personal. Explains Ramachandran, “[it gave us the opportunity] to look at something that affects us daily, not only ourselves, [but] our families [and] our communities.”

Blockchain technology isn’t new. Created in 2008 by the pseudonymous inventor of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, blockchain technology served (and still serves) as an immutable digital ledger for the cryptocurrency, Bitcoin. It works by verifying transactions through a consensus of computer systems. Blockchain is the underlying technology that makes Bitcoin a “trustless” and transparent cryptocurrency network.

Savvy observers soon realized that blockchain could be used in all sorts of different industries, including finance, real estate and, it turns out, the food industry. One of Ripe.io’s first forays into food was with the Internet of Tomatoes, a collaborative project of Analog Devices and the fast-casual salad franchise Sweetgreen.

With the Internet of Tomatoes, Ripe.io set out to use blockchain technology to compile a wealth of data from the farm and apply it to growing a better tomato. Using farmers and sensor machines, the project collected information on everything from temperature to humidity, down to the chemistry reading of a tomato.

It turns out what consumers might think of as a relatively simple food, the tomato, can generate a whole lot of information, with what Ramachandran describes as “hundreds and hundreds of data elements that comprise why a tomato turns out the way it does.”

A sensor stands in a tomato field at Wards Berry Farm in Sharon, Massachusetts, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. An ex-banker at Wells Fargo & Co. and a former executive at Nasdaq Inc. decided to leave finance to start Ripe.io, which uses blockchain in agriculture, and has big aspirations to weave it through the food supply chain. CREDIT: Photographer: Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg

It’s not just the data, of course. In the food industry, many food suppliers and producers have internal mechanisms to verify quality, taste and food safety, but what they don’t necessarily have is a way to share that information with the rest of their supply chain. As Harris explains:

You have the labs, the distributors, the certification, the food safety, the restaurants...our observation was that they weren’t really connected in any meaningful way [because] the data wasn’t being shared [and there was] very little collaboration.

According to Harris, the food industry hasn't gone through a meaningful “digitization event, ” the kind of technological development that entirely transforms an industry. Take, for example, the shift that ultimately enabled consumers to be able to buy a piece of stock in seconds on their smartphone. Harris says you can see it in a number of industries:

[It’s] what the internet has done around information-sharing — what we’ve seen companies like Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Spotify and Pandora do for music, books and television. [Digitization takes] interaction with consumers to another level.

Blockchain technology could potentially be used to create a whole new level of transparency in the food system. “The data [that’s now] stuck in all the different silos throughout the [food] supply chain [can be brought] together into this magical object that we’ve designed called a food bundle,” explains Harris.

That “food bundle” — or bundle of food-related data — can then be shared with all of the participants in the blockchain, which could be a cattle rancher in Texas or a beef buyer for Walmart. “If you’re able to get participation and collaboration from all the farmers, distributors, the people who play a part in all this,” Ramachandran explains, “[you’ll] have better ways to showcase that food.”

With partners like Maersk now on board, Ripe.io is looking to take their “blockchain of food” global. Unlike financial services, says Harris, “food doesn’t have a center of gravity.” Ripe.io hopes blockchain can serve companies throughout the food system. “We’ve designed...Ripe.io and its platform, the “blockchain of food,” to serve the entire food industry, says Harris. “From farm to fork, to the ingredients companies [like] meat, fish, dairy, pork, fruits and vegetables.”

The potential within the food system seems limitless. In this Millennial-obsessed marketing age, the most obvious application is increased transparency for consumers, of course, as blockchain offers food producers a way to go beyond food labels like “sustainable” or “natural” and provide a whole new level of detail about the food they’re about to purchase.

But the technology can be used to increase collaboration within the food system itself, too. Explains Ramachandran,“a lot of the information[-sharing takes place] within the walls of trucks, warehouses [and] refrigeration units.” And Ramachandran was surprised by how eager food producers were to share information. “These companies [you might think] would want to keep those doors sort of closed, it’s actually quite the opposite.”


Maersk Leads Blockchain of Food Startup Ripe.io $2.4m Seed Round

Ripe.io, a startup using blockchain technology to ensure traceability and transparency in the food supply chain, has raised $2.4 million in seed funding in a round led by the venture arm of global container logistics company Maersk. Relish Works, a food service company-backed innovation lab, also invested.

Ripe.io creates what it calls a “digital bridge” between farmers, distributors, processors, traders, restaurants, grocers, and consumers to record and share data on aspects of food’s journey from farm to fork. These data vary from the origin, the growing conditions, transportation, and the contents of packages to provide certified information about the quality and safety of food.

The startup was founded in early 2017 by two fintech entrepreneurs who worked with blockchain technology in various financial markets including FX and capital markets.

The blockchain is a technology that stores and communicates data to various parties via a secure and fully recorded ledger.  Once an entry is made, it’s marked with a unique hash code that places it sequentially in the ledger.

While blockchain is a key component of Ripe.io‘s service, the company’s IP is the technology built on top of it, which includes its methods of data capture from the various parts of the supply chain using the internet of things. This includes capturing data from sensors on the farm, manual farmer surveys, uploaded spreadsheets and more.


The startup’s founders, Raja Ramachandran, CEO, and Phil Harris, president, learned a lot about ensuring the quality of the data captured from their time working in the financial industry.

“You’d be surprised about how much data scrubbing and management goes on the financial sector; there is so much data in financial transactions and they’re very complex,” Ramachandran told AgFunderNews.

“We’ve taken data from very different markets, from open outcry to telephones to highly efficient automated mechanisms, we have seen a mishmash of different parties that are very fragmented with no orderly communication, and we’re comfortable in that world; we’ve done it,” added Harris.

There are three main ways the company looks to ensure data quality:

  1. Get as close to the originating source of the data as possible, understanding the difference between origin and authenticity, and the location of the data source

  2. Take data in any form. “Our experience with our early customers helped us to develop the requirement to have a tech platform that allows us to capture data in any way,” said Ramachandran.

  3. Ensure the data are shared — bar any marked for privacy — between all relevant parties so they can validate them and reach a consensus. This includes ensuring an agreement from all parties before any data point is changed.

“The procedures we set and the nature of the closed environments we create [which Ripe.io call their ‘Food Bundles’], where the participants have shared ledgers and knowledge of the others, creates a level of data voracity that we believe to be true,” said Ramachandran.

While adoption of Ripe.io’s “blockchain of food” will require some behavior change, this will be easier when the supply chain sees the benefits, argued Ramachandran.

“On the farm side, it could help farmers to increase their sales and pricing while on the other end big companies on the buyer side like Walmart want to look at risk management as well as providing more information to their consumers,” he said.

The depth of data Ripe.io is collecting could also be able to tell its customers why a tomato is sweet or when the right time to harvest and ship an avocado is to ensure perfect ripeness in the store.

“It is still very early stages before we can answer if it’s going to disrupt and affect behavior change, but we’ve seen significant changes already and the potential for change, but we’re not in it for change itself; it’s about improving the quality and transparency of the food chain- that’s our positioning.” 

Currently Ripe.io is working with clients on a project basis with a software-as-a-service, but in the long run it will evolve into a licensed API and offer a transactional product.

Gaining investment from Maersk will play a big role in achieving its goals, Harris told AgFunderNews. 

“When we looked at raising money and solidifying partners of significance, they needed to align with our philosophical foundations: that the supply chain of food is inefficient and could do with improvement to reduce the negative side effects and impacts, such as around the issue of food waste. And we wanted to find someone who could accelerate our journey. Maersk moves food around the world and their investment gives us unbelievable wisdom and guidance; their global network is one a kind and can help us globalize our story.”

The startup will use the proceeds mainly to increase its team.

Blockchain and IoT (Internet of Tomatoes)

By Tim Hammerich

What do you look for in a tomato?

Sweetness? Texture? Color? Size? Variety? Perhaps the narrative of how it was grown? How it was ripened? Where it came from? What inputs were used? Who grew it? How nutritional it is?

Likely you nodded “yes” to at least a couple of these questions. And this barely scratches the surface on the factors that go into what various people prefer about an ingredient as simple as a tomato.

In a world of options and varying opinions, we have a long way to go towards optimizing for these types of preferences. In the past we’ve been able to develop genetics that have allowed for tomatoes to be better suited for various factors. There are classes of seed varieties developed just for processing tomatoes, and several other varieties for the tomatoes that you would find in your local produce isle.

However, there is more we can do in addition to genetics to optimize for preference when it comes to agricultural produce such as tomatoes.

The combination of the ability to collect more data and store it in a trustworthy place (like on the blockchain), allows for restaurants, grocery stores, and other food suppliers to better optimize to consumer preferences.

Ripe.io is a leading startup in this space. Their website sums up what they do as “enabling data transparency from farm to fork to answer what our food is, where it has been and what has happened to it.”

Check out this podcast interview I did with Ripe.io Founder Raja Ramachandran.

As Raja explains, in one of the pilot projects they actually collected data on every single tomato produced from a particular grower, and was able to share that information with the restaurant purchaser.

This example doesn’t necessarily require blockchain because you were dealing with two parties that already trusted each other and could have shared data on a spreadsheet. However, it’s a great pilot of what’s possible when you consider the fact that a restaurant buys from a multitude of growers/suppliers who also sell to numerous other restaurants/customers. When you roll this technology out to all participants in this supply chain, it becomes extremely beneficial.

This example doesn’t necessarily require blockchain because you were dealing with two parties that already trusted each other and could have shared data on a spreadsheet. However, it’s a great pilot of what’s possible when you consider the fact that a restaurant buys from a multitude of growers/suppliers who also sell to numerous other restaurants/customers. When you roll this technology out to all participants in this supply chain, it becomes extremely beneficial.

Blockchain creates a sort of “data fabric” so that the restaurant can identify those qualities of the tomatoes that meets their needs and the preferences of their customers. Then they can work with the producers to identify both the varieties and conditions that optimize for those preferences.

In the past, options were limited to choosing a variety that had the best overall factors as well as some basic growing methods (field vs greenhouse vs hydroponic, etc.).

Now sensors that monitor everything from sunlight to temperature to humidity to color and beyond give us an abundant amount of information, even down to the individual tomato. This ability to collect and interconnect data via the internet is commonly known as the Internet of Things (IoT). Or in this case, the Internet of Tomatoes.

This is a great example of how technologies that are developing simultaneously (IoT & blockchain) can be used together for the more rapid advancement of both.

Many times when we explain blockchain we describe it as a distributed ledger that nobody can change. This is a true definition, however it creates this false picture of someone having to physically make entries to the ledger for every time a field is irrigated, a pallet is moved, etc. In reality, most of these entries can be made automatically through sensor technology that is connected to the blockchain via the Internet of Things.


When you look at it this way, it’s incredible to think about the potential for data that is collected in every step of the farm process and how that can be used for everything that we’ve been discussing (see this postthis one, and this one).

Blockchain still has a long way to go in agricultural supply chains. There are still many important questions to answer (What will people do with all of this data? Where is the value captured? Who owns the data?). However, the possibilities are fascinating, and Raja does a fantastic job of articulating his vision for Ripe.io.

I highly encourage you to listen to the full interview here.



Blockchain Next on Food Supply Chain Menu

The food supply chain has a new ally in blockchain to help grapple with safety and regulatory issues.

By JOHN R. YUVA

Few can argue that the global food supply chain is rife with complexities. It is an image of a supply network with myriad actors operating with disparate systems all with the goal of delivering food to the customer. Within such a complex ecosystem, numerous questions abound. Regardless of whether it’s a question of origin, regulatory compliance or the like, most are centered around the same issue—transparency. While elusive for many supply partners in the food chain, transparency now has an ally in blockchain technology.   

Blockchain Demystified

In the food world, blockchain could not have arrived at a better time with several high-profile cases of food contamination and fraud making headlines. While still undergoing pilot testing within companies and among their supply chain partners, blockchain is poised to transform the food industry. But what is blockchain? Within a supply chain context, it’s an encrypted digital ledger shared by multiple supply chain partners that provides permanent transparency and validation of transactions.

C. John Langley Jr., Ph.D., clinical professor of supply chain management at Penn State University and coauthor of the 2018 Third-Party Logistics Study, says the increased desire for visibility within the supply chain is driving increased interest in blockchain technology, which breaks each movement down into a block and documents transactions every time a shipment changes hands. Linking the blocks together creates a record for parties involved in the process and provides specific details associated with each movement, which all parties can access.

“This creates a permanent, digital history as products move throughout the supply chain from the original source through the final leg of the journey. The goal is to create one version of the truth, link information, create transparency surrounding all parties involved in the supply chain, and identify how they participated in the flow of a good or service,” says Langley. “As a bonus, the digital history is not owned or controlled by any one trading partner, so it can be available for all verified partners to use.

No one party can modify, delete or append any record without the consensus from others on the network, adds Langley. “Data generated through blockchain technology could provide more opportunity to analyze information, which is becoming more important in today’s data-driven supply chain. Blockchain also has the potential to create demand chains because it closely tracks and transmits data in real time related to consumption.”

Lance Koonce, partner for Davis Wright Tremaine LLP and head of the firm’s cross-practice blockchain initiative, says blockchain can address those issues around complexity and opaqueness by providing verifiable, granular data.

“There’s excitement around the ability for blockchains to enable improved, more detailed tracking of food products,” he says. “There’s also the collaboration aspect where sharing of critical information can occur among parties that traditionally operate in separate silos. Thus, when an incident of food contamination occurs, for example, rather than taking days or weeks to track the source, can now take minutes through improved transparency.”

The reality is that blockchain mirrors a very decentralized and fragmented world, says Raja Ramachandran, CEO for ripe.io, a company developing its own blockchain for the food system. Blockchain allows that fragmented world to bind its data, its workflows and its activities into something that people can recognize as a record of truth.

A company that manages the ripening process for produce is connected to cold storage, transporters and ultimately buyers with the goal of providing optimally fresh produce at the time it’s needed. However, how is that process validated? How is it true? Ramachandran says those questions can be answered on the blockchain as a single activity of record. Blockchain provides the ability to segregate the data capture and control the data sharing to validate that things are occurring as intended from the fulfillment process through transportation tracking to final purchase.  

“The blockchain is really this fabric and code automation that binds all that together, and more importantly asks each of the participants to effectively provide a consensus that the claim or assertion is true,” he says. “If someone certifies something, you typically rely on a third party. Now, the entire supply chain can self-certify because it’s looking to agree with each other.”

Improving Food Supply Chains Through Blockchain

With the technology’s focus on transparency and verification, blockchain is an ideal solution for the global food supply chain. Still in its infancy, blockchain can have a significant impact on food safety, fraudulent food, and sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

Food safety and fraud transparency. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates annually 48 million people become sick from foodborne illness, leaving 128,000 hospitalized and 3,000 dead.  

Many consumers are unaware of where their food comes from and how it’s produced—blockchain provides that visibility. Koonce says supply chain opacity runs counter to the emphasis on transparency that is emerging in the food marketplace. Companies want the ability to tell stories about honest products and provide accurate labeling.

“You can’t control what you can’t see,” says Koonce. “When you have an opaque supply network, it leaves the window open for such things as fraud and food safety breaches. Much of it stems from a lack of accountability, resulting in the inability to mitigate those risks and respond quickly if they arise.”

Ramachandran agrees and adds that the lack of trust and seeking of information about what we eat and feed our families is driving the need for transparency, accounting for the single-largest issue affecting global food supply chains.

“This is not central to only the United States but globally as well. And from a business perspective, transparency goes beyond just risk management for farmers and large companies, but also brand integrity. People are asking Unilever, Campbell’s, Pepsi and others, including farmers, about their food, how it’s grown, processed, transported and the safety standards involved.”

Sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR). Now, more than ever, consumers are holding food companies accountable for their environmental and social impacts on the world. According to Statista’s 2015 Sustainable Food Industry—Statistics and Facts, “Some 42 percent of North American consumers said they are willing to pay more for sustainable products. In addition, more than half of American consumers said they depend on the company to disclose information about the health and sustainability of their products, and three quarters expressed a desire for more companies to report this kind of information.”

With many companies releasing annual sustainability or CSR reports, blockchain provides an additional layer of supply chain accountability and transparency. This includes agricultural data retrieved from sensors that measure soil quality as well as critical information from food processing equipment.

Ramachandran says there are two dynamics occurring in the world. First, is meeting food demand for vastly growing populations on the planet. According to the High-Level Expert Forum’s How to Feed the World 2050 report, the world population is expected to grow by over a third, or 2.3 billion people, between 2009 and 2050. To feed such a growing population requires low cost and wide accessibility, but also reengineering of food production processes to avoid such things as food spoilage that accounts for nearly 25 percent of water waste.

Second, is recognizing the movement toward sustainable soil management and growth, with emphasis on locally grown produce, says Ramachandran. Major food brands are feeling the effects of this trend as are grocery stores and chemical companies that provide incentives for low-carbon farming. “There’s a great deal of science and effort around yield as well as understanding how to maximize what comes out of a field and the associated proteins,” he says.

Ripe.io has conducted small pilots that showcased the end-to-end chain from seed to mouth of fresh produce, capturing data related to field growth conditions, temperature data within distribution trucks and information extracted from sensors on companies’ food processing machinery, adds Ramachandran.

“We then build a model based on the data to incorporate smart contracts around the process. Regardless of your data methodology (for example, barcodes, RFID, QR codes and the like), a self-executing code (smart contract) uses the data on the blockchain to issue a certification of verifiability and traceability,” he explains.

Impact of Blockchain for Global Food Supplier

Where can blockchain impact CSR goals and initiatives on a global level? As the world’s largest tuna exporter, Thai Union Group in Bangkok operates among an array of supply chain complexities. Most notably, the fishing industry’s fight to eliminate illegal fishing and human rights abuses. The company envisions the use of blockchain throughout its global operations and supply chain.

Darian McBain, Ph.D., global director for sustainable development for Thai Union Group, says Thai Union is committed to demonstrating complete supply chain transparency and traceability. The company implemented a traceability system enabling it to monitor and manage the exclusion of illegal, unreported and unregulated fish from its supply chain. However, the system is partly paper-based.

“Paper-based systems are not perfect. Thus, we’re exploring and implementing digital traceability solutions to help address those inefficiencies and errors. Digital traceability in supply chains is a big step toward ensuring sustainability,” says McBain. “We were the first company globally to introduce a can tracker on canned tuna products, allowing consumers to trace their product back to species, vessel, ocean and fishing trip. We are also looking at using digital traceability to improve connectivity at sea for workers.”

McBain foresees blockchain as an opportunity to secure supply chains through the use of cryptographic signatures or a shared ledger, and assurance for each step of the data chain, from sourcing to production to the consumer. The evolving use of blockchain technology for digital payments across borders and for digital identity is also appealing for the work the company does to support safe and legal migration of workers.

There are several traceability programs Thai Food is implementing where blockchain can be most valuable in tracking supply chain transparency and regulatory compliance. For example, McBain says blockchain technology teamed with its tuna can tracker tool could provide verification for each block of the chain on the flow of goods. “Blockchain can also help ensure we’re meeting regulatory and customer requirements, as well as providing a consumer interface that is both informative and transparent about the global food supply chain.” 

Thai Union launched a digital traceability pilot program where maritime telecommunications provider Inmarsat installed its Fleet One terminals on fishing vessels in Thailand. “The program tests scalable platforms for electronic catch data and traceability systems that utilize mobile applications and satellite connectivity, making it possible to demonstrate true electronic end-to-end traceability and supply chain management,” says McBain.

In another pilot program, crew members, captains and fleet owners were trained on “Fish Talk” chat applications developed by Xsense—an industry first for Thai fisheries, says McBain. “More importantly for human rights, the pilot brings with it the ability for workers on the vessels to use ‘Fish Talk’ to communicate with loved ones back on shore. There is so much potential around blockchain technology, and we are exploring how to use it throughout our supply chain to complement our pilot programs.”

Value of Blockchain Is Evolving

With the possibility to improve supply chain transparency and traceability and condense complex supply chain transactions into verifiable, trusted data blocks, there’s promising potential for blockchain. In its May 2017 benchmark survey, Blockchain in Supply Chain: Edging Toward Higher Visibility, Chain Business Insights reveals that supply chain professionals view improved supply chain visibility/transparency (45.9 percent); reduced transaction costs (24.3 percent); and enhanced trust between supply chain partners (13.5 percent) as the primary advantages of blockchain.

However, Koonce says blockchain is not a magic solution for everything. It’s simply a different way of sharing information, but at a rapid speed with greater detailed data among different parties. There needs to be caution in assuming blockchains are going to replace existing software.

“Blockchains don’t scale as easily as other software solutions. They’ll be used where it’s most helpful—in processes where many parties are involved, high levels of complexity exist and information requires transparency,” says Koonce. “If you can provide better, quicker data, then that on its own provides greater efficiencies because parties can improve their decision-making.”

An area where blockchain can enhance efficiencies and lead to potential innovations is billing and invoicing. Koonce says an exciting segment, although still in the development phase, is smart contracts where parties operating on the same blockchain enter into contracts and execute them through an automated process. This can lead to faster payments times between supply chain partners.  

“We could see the development of entirely new types of payment systems as blockchains are implemented,” says Koonce. “This, in turn, may lead to fewer middlemen in the supply chain who currently certify transactions among parties. Blockchain automates that issue of trust, reducing or eliminating parties that provide some of those roles.”  

Ramachandran agrees with Koonce that blockchain has the ability to transform industries and processes over time, but it doesn’t happen overnight. People need to get used to the notion of trust and everyone has a version of it.

“What blockchain does is creates a brighter light on the entire activities of an industry. There will be time to adjust and get people comfortable with that,” says Ramachandran. Once absorbed, it becomes a powerful tool.

He adds that there are going to be several blockchains—consortium chains, application-specific chains like traceability, IoT-driven chains, financial chains, insurance chains and the like. What should be avoided is forcing players in an industry to select one of many services. Rather, promote assurances that there’s inner operability amongst the various blockchains.

“If multiple blockchain providers have worked out those business models, then it should be seamless to the user,” says Ramachandran. “The blockchains must align with business models so that the individual user and individual companies can subscribe to one service with access to many.”

Blockchain provides the ability to view supply chains from a 30,000-foot perspective and say ‘How can we make them better?’ “It’s fair to say that if blockchains can help the global food supply chain increase accountability and transparency, make transactions more efficient and reduce complexities, those are enormous steps,” says Koonce. 

How Could Blockchain Be Used With Food?

By Michael Wolf

At this year’s Smart Kitchen Summit, Mike Lee of the Future Market said that personalized data profiles are a huge unmet opportunity in food.

I agree with Mike, and the more I’ve thought about it, the more I see blockchain as being pretty critical to the creation of secure, decentralized data profiles. But, of course, this is only one potential use case for blockchain, which is getting a strong look as calls for greater transparency and security across the food value chain become louder.

And so when I was at the Internet of Food conference last month, I was intrigued by many of the things folks like Raja Ramachandran, the CEO of Ripe.io, had to say. Ramachandran and his company are building a blockchain for food, so I decided to ask him to come on the podcast and talk about the future of blockchain within the food ecosystem.

Enjoy the podcast and make sure to subscribe in Apple podcasts if you haven’t already.