M&S and Swedish supermarkets are taking a fresh approach to the way they label fresh fruit and veg. Instead of putting on a sticker or using plastic packaging to present consumers with product information, lasers are being used to tattoo the information on the skin of the fruit or vegetable.

Not Just a Gimmick

Laser branding fruit and veg might sound like a novelty, but it is actually a great way to reduce the use of plastics and other packaging. And, after the initial expense of the laser cutting machine, the cost of laser tattooing a fruit is just as cost-effective as adding stickers.

Stephane Merit, BDM of Laser Food, the Spanish company behind the technology told the Guardian that the laser technology could “make a significant reduction in the amount of paper, ink, glue” being used. It’s also worth noting that the stickers won’t need to be cut out or transported to be stuck on to the produce where it could fall off anyway.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

Living in the Future

The idea of laser tattooing fruit has been around since 2010. Laser Food created the laser technology in Valencia, Spain and already lasered logos onto melons for the French grocery giant, Carrefour. The idea was simple: mark the skin of the fruit or veg without damaging the skin.

The process consists of ‘removing small parcels of pigments from the fruits surface and applying natural (edible) contrasting liquid to show information’. This way, whatever the laser has marked on the surface will be made easily distinguishable. Vitally, this process doesn’t shorten the shelf life of the produce or change the quality or taste.

M&S signed a partnership with Laser Food back in 2014 to trail the laser labelling system using oranges in several stores. The trial was to fit in Marks & Spencer’s Plan A for sustainability and would use liquids and natural products to mark barcodes, sell-by dates and other information directly onto the skin of the fruit.

The trial using oranges was suspended, though, as citrus fruits have ‘self-healing’ skins. This means that the laser mark was less effective. Having learned this, new trials using fruits such as avocados and sweet potatoes have begun with Swedish supermarket, ICA and Nature & More, a Dutch fruit and veg supplier. The next step will be to try laser marking fruits with edible skins such as apples and nectarines.

Ethical Shopping

Apart from saving plastics and other resources, laser technology produces less than 1% of the carbon emissions that would be required to produce a similarly sized sticker. This is a great draw for shoppers who are environmentally conscious when they shop. In particular, people who prefer to buy organic veg are likely to prefer laser labelled veg for its green credentials as they are also likely to be avoiding over-packaged foods.

Peter Hagg, business unit manager of ICA said, “by using natural branding on all the organic avocados we would sell in one year, we will save 200km (135 miles) of plastic 30cm wide.” Needless to say, this is a significant amount of plastic – imagine how much could be saved by using this method on all fruits and veg!

M&S are already using this technology to laser make coconuts in their stores but already there is talk of expanding current trials to other produce. The feedback on Swedish social media has been popular so far and we hope that method will really take off in the UK. How awesome would that be?