High-tech produce laser marking is now a real thing. The future is here. The Swedish supermarket chain, ICA, started what they call, “natural branding” in December 2016.
The natural branding process used low-energy CO2 (carbon dioxide) lasers to “brand” the outer skins of organic fruits and vegetables. ICA has already started using this tattoo-style laser marking method to replace labels for their organic sweet potatoes and avocados.
The tattoo-style patterns include the product name, country of origin, and code number. If the test turns out to be a success, ICA will cut back on the use of stickers/labels on their organic produce in all 1,350 stores.
Laser marking on produce is a newer technology, therefore they want to see how it goes before taking the process to the next level. If it works out well, this could be the smartest method and most sustainable method of produce marking that has been used in years. It’s going to help reduce unnecessary plastic packaging, labels, and other unnecessary packaging and materials.
The reason the company decided to start the testing with avocados and sweet potatoes is because the peels aren’t usually something people eat, and they are some of the most common types of produce that sticker labels don’t stick too well. However, it might not be unusual to see branded eggplants and broccoli in grocery stores all over the world in the near future.
Later this year, ICA plans to test laser marking on melons and other fruits and vegetables with consumable skins to see how consumers react to the change. Peter Hagg, the senior manager of ICA, says that laser marking doesn’t produce any negative effects on the vegetables and fruit. The process is extremely delicate and doesn’t go through the skin, so it doesn’t affect the taste or the quality of the produce.
29-year old Jonas Kullendorff says he approves of this laser method if it can reduce packaging waste. He says he’s all for it because it’s a more sustainable alternative to traditional packaging and labeling.
New Zealand and Australia have been using laser labeling since 2009. It became an approved method in the EU in 2013. The Netherlands-based produce supplier, Eosta is working with ICA for the testing of laser marking in Sweden.
According to Eosta, more than 725,000 packs of organic avocados were sold to ICA in 2015. Packing them requires almost 135 miles (220 kilometers) of plastic wrap. Currently, Eosta is etching the information into the avocados and they are able of sitting in open bins without any packaging or stickers.
The only downside to laser etching is that it cannot be done on all types of produce. For instance, citrus fruit peels can self-heal, which would make the brand disappear within a matter of hours. In this case, the packaging is still the best method for citrus fruits since it extends the life of the product. Maybe in the future, a more sustainable method will be discovered.
For consumers, the label system is an inconvenience more than a pollution issue, but even small amounts of waste, like those little sticker labels, have an impact on the environment. This new laser engraving technology could be the first step to eliminating more waste.