When we hear the term "food waste," we tend to think of uneaten food itself. But produce stickers, such as those found on many fruits and vegetables, also create a lot of unnecessary waste. Luckily, new laser technology, which allows produce companies to engrave labels directly onto fruits and vegetables themselves, may soon make such stickers a thing of the past.
At the forefront of this technology is aptly-named Spanish company Laser Food. Along with University of Valencia researchers and equipment manufacturer Maxfrut, Laser Foods is striving to make laser-printed labels the norm in the produce industry. The company is concerned about the impact traditional produce labels have on the environment, but that isn't their only reason for standing behind more high tech labels.
According to export sales director Stephanie Merit, laser-printed labels also have a distinct advantage over the sticker variety in that they don't fall off, allowing for easier tracking of produce. As she explains, "The concept is the answer to a major problem in the industry: total traceability of fruits and vegetables, by the piece, until they reach the consumer’s table."
Recently, British food company Marks & Spencer (M&S) made headlines by announcing that they will begin selling avocados with laser-printed labels in an effort to curb waste. According to the company, this move will save tons of paper and glue every year.
Testing the labels on avocados will likely prove to be a wise choice, given that Britain is currently experiencing a bit of an "avocado frenzy." Avocados are currently considered one of the country's most popular foods, and sales since last year have soared. M&S recently began selling prepacked avocado slices, to compete with other grocery chains around the country, all of whom have begun selling eye-catching avocado products, from lattes to extra-large avocados.
According to Charlie Curtis, a fruit technologist at M&S, the introduction of laser-labeling at M&S stores has been a long time coming. As he explains, "When we first saw the technology in Sweden a couple of years ago, I knew we had to get involved. We've been following it for a while and are so excited to finally be launching it on avocados. Sustainability is at the heart of our business and the laser labelling is a brilliant way for us to reduce packaging and energy use."
As with most new technology, things don't always go perfectly the first time. Several years ago, laser-labeling technology similar to that which M&S is now using on its avocados, was used on citrus fruit. But it was found to degrade the quality of the fruit skins, and was ultimately discontinued. Still, M&S is hopeful about the future of this new labeling, and hopes to see it go beyond avocados alone.
"Providing all goes well with the avocado lasering, we could look at rolling the technology out to all sorts of other fruit and vegetables in the future. We have the potential to reduce packaging exponentially which is very exciting," Curtis concluded.