You walk into the grocery store with reusable bags in hand and pick up a bunch of organic bananas and a few avocados. You might consider yourself a conscious consumer and avoid waste where you can, but have you ever thought about the plastic stickers on your food? Even if you are joining the zero-waste movement, produce stickers will likely find their way into your “trash jar.”
With eco-conscious shopping gaining steam among consumers, the food industry is playing catch-up. A European grocery store chain and their produce supplier are leading the way by teaming up to eliminate the traditional food label and replace it with a 21st-century solution: laser brands.
This high-tech food labeling method became a reality in 2013 when Laserfood partnered with the University of Valencia. Their goal was to develop a laser that could brand fruits and vegetables without adverse effects on quality and taste. After developing the technology, Laserfood entered into a deal with the Swedish grocery store chain ICA and their produce supplier Nature & More to test the labels in Sweden.
“Natural branding” is the term used by those in the food industry to describe the technology. It works by using laser light to remove color pigment from the skin, creating a permanent stamp on the product. Suppliers have emphasized that this method will not affect food quality or shelf life in a grocery store and is completely invisible beneath the skin of the produce.
With consumers demanding less packaging, ICA is holding a trial run using laser labels on organic avocados and sweet potatoes, and they aren’t the only ones. A store in the UK is also taking advantage of the technology by using it on coconuts sold in their stores.
So why do we need produce labels? While the grocery store cashier can probably identify the fruits and veggies in a cart just by looking at them, produce labels provide a great deal of other information like PLU (price look-up) codes that categorize individual items.
What do PLU codes stand for?
Using laser labels as an eco-friendly alternative to stickers will provide environmental and financial benefits in the long-run. Peter Hagg from ICA told The Guardian that using lasers to brand avocados could eliminate “200km (135 miles) of plastic 30cm wide” from the waste stream over the course of a single year.
For now, these limited tests are only on produce where stickers are difficult to place. But thanks to positive market feedback, the laser-branded lineup is expanding. Testing on fruits with edible skins, think apples or pear, are the first in line. According to Hagg, the business cost for natural branding versus plastic stickers is similar, but that gains made in sustainability are well worth the extra effort.
As shoppers increasingly lean towards sustainable and eco-friendly packaging, grocers and suppliers will need to keep environmental concerns top of mind.
Looking for other ways to make your business more environmentally friendly? Read our article on how to improve business sustainability with advice from Sustainable Business Solutions.