Imaginative tech Natural Branding: Laser marking on fruits and veggies

WHY do we need Laser Marking on fruits?

The industry need for Natural Branding – a technology that lasers markings onto the surface of some fruits and vegetables – is achieving traction amid increasing plastic packaging bans. Notably, France banned vendors from dealing with 30 different fruits and vegetables covered in plastic packaging. Spain is also in line to set a similar law in 2023.

Such rules increase customer frustration toward “excessive” plastic and stickers and open up Natural Branding routes. The laser-based technology not only has a without packaging solution for natural products, including bananas, oranges, onions, avocados, and watermelons, it can also improve brand appeal with customized logos and extend traceability with individual identity.

Nevertheless, as the plastic-out trend increases throughout the packaging industry, warnings of improved food waste and likely hygiene difficulties continue to mount.

INSIDE Natural Branding

EU-backed Laser Food first created its Natural Branding technology in 2006, following a goal to decrease new produce labeling’s carbon footprint by 99.9%. In 2013, the European Commission voted to allow the technology’s usage in Europe.

“Natural Branding creates a gentle spot on the upper surface of the fruit skin with a laser. In some cases, this mark forms a depigmentation of the skin. In other cases, it generates a reaction that transforms the skin’s color,” explains Stéphane Merit, international business development manager at Laser Food.

“We use specific lasers that have shown they do not damage the fruit and deliver adequate production capacity. The primary idea behind our solution is to deliver an industrial-level design that can process big volumes of fruit without impacting the product’s taste, aroma, or shelf life.”

Newly, ICA supermarkets in Sweden started using the laser solution on organic avocados, stopping the use of plastic film. 

“It’s safe to eat the fruit and the peel, even the part that is marked,” confirms Paul Hendriks, packaging manager at Eosta. “We employ no additional substances to improve the process.”

“Although laser-marking was around already, we presented it to the organic vegetable market in 2016 [on sweet potatoes] with huge triumph. The Guardian wrote about it, and it caught on all over Europe. We had film crews from as far away as Taiwan who were interested.”

CONSENSUS on food waste

Ward at StePac takes an overuse of plastic packaging in the fresh produce industry. However, he reminds us that it plays a critical role in shielding fruits and vegetables and decreasing waste in supply chains.

“Fresh vegetable waste contributes to about 8% of global carbon dioxide emissions, yet the plastic packaging used to protect and lower this number represents a tiny portion of the total plastic packaging used,” he says.

“Before thinking restricting the use of plastic packaging for fresh fruits and vegetables. It is crucial to show there are alternative solutions in place to maintain quality and lower waste, and that those solutions are additionally environmentally friendly.”

However, Merit empathizes that Natural Branding is a solution to the issue of plastic “whenever possible.” Some developments will still need to be covered in plastic, he consents.

“But the numeral of veggies that can be laser-marked without plastic is increasing. For example, a few years ago, it was impossible to sell cucumbers without shrink-wrap. Now, it is feasible to sell these same cucumbers with Natural Branding marker and no plastic.”

Meanwhile, Hendriks means that many supermarkets’ fruits and vegetables are unpackaged anyway. Natural Branding is only used to select products, relying on clients’ preferences, he says.

Ward agrees that natural branding is a positive development for the industry and environmental sustainability, but it is not universal.

“Natural Branding is especially suited for items with a protective skin that functions as a natural barrier to protect the fruits. For those things that don’t have protective skin, the packaging is usually required to protect and extend shelf life and decrease waste during the supply chain.

In such cases, Natural Branding is not appropriate, and the branding will resume being on the packaging,” he adds.

OVERHYPED hygiene concerns

France’s plastic banning reaches a time of heightened hygiene concern. According to Innova Market Insights, 59% of international consumers consider packaging’s protecting function is more crucial due to COVID-19. Moreover, 20% favor plastics during the pandemic, including unrecyclable films on fresh produce, while 42% see them as unwanted necessities.

Merit assumes that the pandemic has delayed the plastic-out trend but will restore its momentum post-pandemic. Meanwhile, Hendriks is excited to ease any hygiene concerns surrounding unpacked produce.

The tech’s flexibility authorizes brands to determine products with personalized markings.

lasers markings on fruits

“If the product is packed in plastic, people will still handle it,” he says. “All traditional apples, oranges, avocados, pineapples, pears, tomatoes in all significant supermarkets are sold unpacked and consistently have been – billions of kg per year. Yet supermarkets have never been recognized as a point of special consideration for the spread of viruses.”

“Unpacked fruits and vegetables are the standards, as they should be. Nature sealed them for us. As long as somebody wash or peel their fruits and vegetables, there is no hazard at all. Also, coronavirus is mainly airborne – the possibility of transmission through a surface is less than 1 in 10,000, as research shows.”

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Vihaan Nagal

संवेष्टन अभियान्ता | Packaging Engineer | Verpackung Ingenieur *Free time blogger *Believe in packaging reform (say naa to orthodox packaging) My life lies between degradable and non-degradable material.

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