Could 'natural branding' be the end of fruit and vegetable stickers?

As natural branding with lasers makes headway overseas, companies look at the impact of the practice. 


 

A future of branding produce with lasers?

Natural Branding is a sign of the high-tech innovation that may be coming to the produce aisles of supermarkets in the U.S.

As viewers saw in Sci Tech Now North Carolina's story on natural branding for sweet potatoes, it’s already happening at some Swedish supermarkets. Laser branding has been in use in Australia and New Zealand since 2009. It was approved for use in European Union countries in 2013. 

Laser branding uses low-energy carbon dioxide lasers to remove the pigment from the outer skins of fruits and vegetables. The laser beams create a marking that resembles a tattoo; usually the product’s name, country of origin and code number for inventory and pricing. 

Why (or why not) natural branding

The Swedish supermarket chain ICA decided to start using natural branding with sweet potatoes and avocados because their peels are usually not eaten. It's also beneficial because the little stickers often used to brand produce have a tendency to fall off of those products. 

Some wonder if natural branding affects the quality or taste of the product. It doesn't. However, Peter Hagg, the senior manager for fruits and vegetables with ICA, admits it’s something to which consumers must be introduced. 

“It’s a new technique and we are searching for smarter ways to brand our products because we think we have too much unnecessary plastic material and packaging on our products,” says Hagg. “When we explain that is why we are testing the natural branding, they like the idea, but it’s still a learning process.” 

Hagg says ICA plans to test laser marking on some items with consumable skins soon. The process can’t work on all products. Citrus fruit has the ability to heal itself, so the mark would be gone in a few hours. Hagg also admits that in some cases, packaging helps to extend a product’s shelf life. 

The difference of plastic-free branding

However, Eosta, the Netherlands-based produce supplier that is working with ICA, says where it can be used, natural branding can make a significant difference. 

The company says it sold more than 725,000 packs of organically grown avocados to ICA in 2015. Packaging all of them required 220 kilometers (135 miles) of plastic wrap. The avocados now sit in open bins without stickers or packaging. 

 

—Frank Graff 

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on Sci Tech Now North Carolina, a weekly science series that airs Tuesdays on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!


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