“Natural” laser labels: Eco-friendly packaging option for fruit and vegetables hits Dutch shelves

636639688371518594jumbo ginger.jpg

08 Jun 2018 --- Dutch supermarket chain Jumbo has launched a so-called “natural label” on a selection of its organic vegetables range, marking a move into the mainstream for the technology. The “natural label” is achieved through the use of laser technology that makes it possible to display the indication of “organic” directly onto the produce, without the need for additional packaging material. The method holds potential for further retailers who are looking to reduce plastic packaging and reduce their environmental footprint.

“Packaging material has an important function in certain food and vegetables when it comes to health and safety. However, organic fruit and vegetables are packaged in plastic because it is legally required to make a distinction in the stores between regular fruit and vegetables and organic produce. Because biologic [organic] is the smallest group of products, it is packaged with an eye on having the least environmental impact. So, where possible, we look for alternatives,” a Jumbo spokesperson tells FoodIngredientsFirst.

Indeed, EU regulation on organic produce specifies that consumers must be able to clearly recognize organic produce from conventional ranges. This has spurred 'a great growth of our technology in the organic sector',” Stephane Merit, International Business Development Manager at Laser Food, the supplier of the laser technology, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.

“At Jumbo, we try to limit our impact on the environment as much as possible. The subject of packaging has our attention and our starting point is that we want to use as little packaging material and be as sustainable as possible. And this laser technique is a good example of this,” the Jumbo spokesperson adds.

Jumbo explains that consumers are increasingly concerned about environment and health and, arguably, this may be even more relevant or important to the consumer who chooses to buy organic.

Although the laser technique is, so far, only applied to ginger, zucchini and butternut squash at Jumbo, “The method is suitable for all kinds of fruits and vegetables,” the spokesperson explains. However, it is not suitable for “oranges, mandarins, lemons and pomegranates. The peel of those fruits can heal the laser imprint, so the brand is not visible anymore after a while. We are investigating which organic products can be further fitted with a natural label.”

However, it is important to note that Laser Food described to FoodIngredientsFirst that they do indeed have a patented invention that allows the use of laser technology on fruits such as oranges, mandarins, lemons and pomegranates. The technology is coined contrast liquid; it is sprayed on the fruit skin after the mark has been made by the laser and triggers a reaction. The mark then becomes visible and the fruit skin is not affected. Furthermore, the contrast liquid is not a dye and was approved by the EU in its regulation 510/2013 and certified organic in 2017, Merit adds.

Laser technology has seen growth across regions in recent years, according to Merit, and can be found in retailers including ICA, Carrefour, Edeka, Rewe, Delhaize, Lidl, Spar and Marks & Spencers, who are largely using it in single items as opposed to entire ranges. Although the laser technology has been available for some years, it was initially aimed at reducing the use of stickers on fresh produce. However, Merit explains that its role is now within the plastic elimination space, which makes it hugely relevant today. Jumbo’s adoption of “natural labels” for the organic range marks an important move into the mainstream which, Merit hopes, will lead to other major players adopting the technology more widely.

Laser labels in the context of plastic reduction
Recently headlines have been alit with the news of supermarkets pledging to ditch plastic, in response to regulatory and consumer pressures. Earlier this year, it was announcedClick to Enlarge that 40 major players were uniting under the UK Plastics Pact, which plans to eradicate single-use plastic from the supply chain. The UK Plastics Pact claims to be the first of its kind in the world. It will be replicated in other countries to form a "global movement for change" as part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative.  

Moreover, the principal targets of the initiative emphasize the need for recycling and collection of packaging, while also revising packaging materials to make them all reusable, recyclable or compostable. However, laser label technology arguably brings a further critical method for reducing plastic: it does not use any packaging at all.

In the words of Merit from Laser Food, “If you consider that every laser mark that is made on a fruit means at least one little sticker less or one piece of flow-pack less will be disposed of in nature. ICA, shortly after they launched the use of our technology on some of their produce boasted that, thanks to the use of laser mark, they were going to eliminate 200km of flow-pack plastic during one year.”

FoodIngredientsFirst also spoke to Roberta Arbinolo, Communications Officer at Zero Waste Europe on the use of laser packaging as a viable method to reduce the plastic packaging for fresh produce:

“Laser labels can play a role in reducing the application of plastic packaging. This is important, as plastic packaging is highly problematic for waste management and the environment. Europeans, on average, throw away more than 30kg of plastic packaging per person per year. The majority of plastic packaging is used only once, with 95 percent of its value lost to the global economy after this first use (worth an estimated €100 billion annually), and most of this goes to landfill or is incinerated,” says Arbinolo.

“Laser marking can help reduce this, allowing us to provide information such as origin and barcodes without the need for packaging or stickers, saving resources and reducing emissions (laser marking generates 1 percent of the carbon emissions of a typical sticker on an item of fruit).”

“Some retailers are taking steps such as introducing laser marking on certain products, however, this is still not the norm and much more could and Click to Enlargeshould be done to reduce over packaging.” 

“Many packaging practices used by the food industry and retailers are implemented to support economic efficiencies and marketing and brand objectives rather than to preserve food or provide essential information to the consumer. These practices, such as multipacks and pre-determined packaging formats, can actually lead to both plastic and food waste,” she adds.

“Producers, importers, exporters, packers and retailers of fresh fruits & vegetables are increasingly aware of their responsibility and are all starting to adopt measures to fight against this problem. Many of them have found a solution in our technology and we are sure that this is only the beginning,” Merit concludes. 

Laser technology ushers in the possibility to completely eradicate the use of packaging for certain types of fresh produce, as opposed to packaging it another kind of packaging that happens to be biodegradable or compostable. Yet, the necessity of biobased and biodegradable packaging is huge for many food products.

By Laxmi Haigh

This feature is provided by FoodIngredientsFirst's sister website, PackagingInsights.

To contact our editorial team please email us at editorial@cnsmedia.com

Related Articles

Food Ingredients News

A turning point in history? World Food Day shines a light on eradicating hunger, boosting nutrition and mitigating climate change

16 Oct 2018 --- As the dust settles after last week’s stark warnings from climate change experts about how future drought, high temperatures and extreme weather events could seriously impact crops and supply chains, attention turns to World Food Day (WFD) which is being marked today with a campaign to eradicate hunger. Once again food security is on the agenda as key players meet in Rome to mark the day and urge a greater awareness and action for those who suffer from hunger and to ensure food security and nutritious diets for all.

Food Ingredients News

Irish Minister launches dairy research center, reinforces commitment to agri-food sector

16 Oct 2018 --- The Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed TD, has launched the new VistaMilk SFI Research Centre which is jointly funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and his department. The VistaMilk Centre will be hosted by Teagasc Moorepark (Co. Cork), in partnership with a number of research performing organizations, multinational and SME companies in the food sectors are also part of the consortium.

Food Ingredients News

Cutting rice greenhouse gas emissions: Olam calls for international cooperation

16 Oct 2018 --- Olam is calling for urgent action by the agri-sector including brands, retailers, financial institutions, scientists and governments to implement solutions to limit methane emissions from rice production while improving farmer livelihoods and food security. According to the company, it is essential to consider that many rice consumers are unable to pay more for rice production and the industry should react now.

Food Ingredients News

At the forefront of food trends: Blending big business with disruptive start-ups to accelerate growth

16 Oct 2018 --- This week the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit takes place in London (October 16-17), showcasing the latest innovations and agri-tech intelligence. Hailed as the most international gathering of agribusiness leaders, venture capital investors and agri-tech innovators, the Summit is an international networking and deal-making event for global agribusinesses, solution providers, entrepreneurs and investors. One of the objectives is to accelerate the commercialization of advanced agricultural technologies by generating global partnerships and collaborations.

Food Ingredients News

Longer lasting gum? TasteTech launches innovative Gum Kit for sugar-free applications

16 Oct 2018 --- TasteTech has launched a new Gum Kit specifically designed to help chewing gum manufacturers create longer lasting chewing gum. The UK-based company is a manufacturer of controlled release flavorings and ingredients and is at the forefront of microencapsulation technology, pioneering solutions to food manufacturers worldwide.

More Articles