Food tattoos

Food tattoos

Replacing the standard sticker labels on fruits and vegetables with a new innovative technique called laser tattooing or ‘natural branding’ is of great interest to retailers and producers across Europe.

Date:

Wed, 06 Sep 2017

Source:

Make Innovation Happen

Replacing food packaging with tattoos

Sustainable and environmental friendly products that limit packaging and lower the carbon footprint have been in increased demand by ethical shoppers and retailers alike.

This process marks the skin of fruits and vegetables by using either iron oxides or intense light to discolour the very top layer of the product’s skin. This technology does not affect the quality, taste, smell of the fruit’s lifespan. 

Using laser tattoos on fruits and vegetables eliminates the need for paper, ink and glue of traditional labels, and avoids the problem of traditional stickers falling off, which ultimately improves the traceability of the produce and minimises costs and energy consumption during post-harvest processing.

From citrus fruits, melons and sweet potatoes to coconuts, bananas and avocados - this technology can be applied to a wide variety of fresh produce.

Future for fresh food labelling

The Laser Food Company, based in Valencia, developed the laser tattooing technology in 2009 and was approved by the EU in 2013 for lasering citrus fruits, melons and pomegranates.

The label can contain the product name, barcodes, QR Codes, country of origin or other product information. The Laser Food Company estimates that the amount of CO2-emissions for a laser mark is less than 0.2 % of the amount for a sticker of similar size.

An alternative technique for packaging-less-labelling was established by JBT Foodtech. The innovative and eco-friendly technique for contactless marking of fruits and vegetables which utilises natural light laser technology. 

This year the Swedish supermarket chain ICA and Netherlands-based organic produce distributor Nature & More started trialling JBT’s natural branding technology on sweet potatoes, avocados, aubergines, oranges and broccoli.

Natural branded products are also safe to eat as there are no additional substances nor are chemicals added. This method removes the need for packaging and stickers and reduces the overall carbon footprint.

Recently, Marks and Spencer started laser printing labels on avocados to reduce waste and to also lower the carbon footprint of their produce. These products align with the company’s ambition of contributing to a sustainable environment and to make packaging ‘widely recyclable’ by 2022.

Avocados with laser printed labels have been available in selected Marks and Spencer’s stores since June 2017. The label includes the Marks and Spencer logo, the best before date, country of origin and product code.

The demand of avocados is rising every year and Marks and Spencer says that labelling avocados with lasers instead of stickers will save retailers 10 tonnes of labels and backing paper, as well as 5 tonnes of glue every year (BBC, 19 June 2017). As soon as the trial of avocado labelling is proved, Marks and Spencer’s goal is to apply this technique to other fruits and vegetables.

Growth opportunities

The Scottish government aims to reduce the amount of plastic waste and to increase recyclable plastics and environmental friendly packaging in the future. Laser tattoos could greatly assist in fulfilling this goal. Laser tattoos on fruits and vegetables provide a great marketing opportunity for retailers and suppliers throughout Scotland, not only in terms of traceability and sustainability but also as a tool to mark products with motifs during seasons, like Halloween or Christmas. 

In Sweden, the trial of laser labelling has been successful and gained high consumer acceptance, receiving excellent feedback from consumers who are becoming increasing environmentally conscious. Marks and Spencer has invested in this technology and sees a huge potential in this labelling innovation. Once the label is accepted by consumers and producers in the UK, the next step is to trial labelling on edible skin products like apples or nectarines. The innovation of laser tattoos or natural branding has great potential to reduce waste and steer consumers away from the growing concern of plastic waste and other non-recyclable packaging. 

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