As we are all aware, packaging is a huge area of waste especially in the food industry. If natural branding was used on all organic avocados in one year it would save 200km of plastic 30cm wide. Now imagine how much plastic could be saved in even just one year if all food packaging was eliminated. This is what has spurred the Swedish supermarket ICA and Dutch fruit and vegetable supplier Nature & More to test laser labelling on organic avocados and sweet potatoes. The initiative began in response to the rising consumer demand for less food packaging. It seems the sustainable benefits of laser technology are groundbreaking as it creates less than one per cent of the carbon emissions needed to produce a sticky label. Laser labelling will also be adopted by the UK supermarket and retailer Marks & Spencer on their coconuts.
However, under EU law, all food items must be marked if they are to be sold loosely. But this new collaboration between the Swedish food suppliers means that fresh produce can be marked without using any materials at all. This would be a significant reduction in the amount of paper, ink and glue in production. The new process referred to as Natural Branding is the organic approach to making fruit and vegetables labels with a laser beam. A small proportion of pigment is removed from the outer layer of the peel. It was approved by the EU Organic certifier SKAL because the method does not rely on any additional substances, effect taste or shelf life.
Charlotta Lyon, Senior Vice President, Sustainability and Corporate Affairs, Carlsberg and Niels Schenk, CTO, BioBTX are just some of the guest speakers attending this year's second annual Bio-Based Live Europe conference which is free for all brands to attend!
Paul Hendriks, packaging expert at Nature & More, is very pleased with the new technology. "The most sustainable way to pack is not to pack. I have been saying that for years, but it has been difficult to bring about in the supermarket. With Natural Branding it becomes a logical option. We are very glad that ICA, as a front-runner, is taking this sustainable road with us. We think green consumers will be delighted, because research shows again and again that they disapprove of plastic packaging."
What are the drawbacks?
The cost of buying the laser technology to begin with is a huge expense for companies. It is purchased with the hope for long-term investment and sustainability goals. But after that initial investment, Michaël Wilde, Sustainability and Communications Manager at Nature & More says it is almost more cost-effective than stickers. “You have to invest in an extremely expensive machine, so it’s very much an investment for the future. This is something we believe more and more supermarkets will take on. It saves resources, CO2 and energy, so it does calculate.”
UK M&S also trialled the technology on oranges last year but the citrus skin has a 'healing' property which meant that the laser mark wasn’t as clear. But since then, the giant corporation plan to use it on coconuts to begin with before extending this to other products. Whilst laser food technology is not a new idea for marketing and branding it hasn’t been used for sustainability purposes before. It is hoped that this is just the start for the initiative as the Swedish retailers plan to expand the use of laser markers to ginger, kiwis, mangoes, peppers, apples and cucumbers according to Wilde.
“Organic sales are driven by environmental awareness, like climate change and belief in health benefits. Younger shoppers also choose products depending on the environmental impact of the packaging. And we know that this will be very important in coming years,” Peter Hagg, ICA business unit manager.
Having more products and companies on board with the initiative, it is hoped that this will save not only thousands of plastic packaging units but millions.
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