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16 January 2017

European supermarkets replace sticky labels with “natural branding”

The UK retailer Marks and Spencer has joined other supermarkets in Europe, including Dutch supplier Nature & More, in their efforts to reduce packaging by removing sticky labels on fruit and vegetables. 

Developed by Spanish firm Laser Food, “Natural Branding” uses laser marking to replace sticky labels and reduce plastic packaging.

The mark is invisible once skin is removed and doesn’t affect shelf life or eating quality.

Dutch fruit and veg supplier Nature & More have collaborated with Swedish supermarket ICA have to trial replacing the sticky labels on organic avocados and sweet potatoes with a laser mark.

In response to consumer demand for less packaging, Marks and Spencer are also using the technique on coconuts in the United Kingdom.

Peter Hagg, Business Unit Manager at 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. It’s small but I think it adds up”.

Laser marking technology produces less than one per cent of the carbon emission required to create a similar sized sticker.

Paul Hendriks, Packaging Expert at Nature & More, said: "The most sustainable way to pack is not to pack.”

Yet under EU rules all items need to be marked hence the need for stickers if selling loose.

Hagg went on to say: “This is a solution that permanently marks the skin of the product, so it’s better from a sustainability perspective, but also avoids the problem of stickers falling off.” 

Michaël Wilde, Sustainability and Communications Manager at Nature & More, asserts that whilst the cost of a laser machine is considerable, after the initial investment it is almost more cost-effective than stickers, saving resources, energy and CO2.

ICA is now looking at using laser markings on edible skin products, including apples and nectarines.

Consumers reaction to laser-marked products is one of the only concerns for Hagg and Wilde, however, feedback on Swedish social media has been positive thus far.

Hagg said:  “The calculations are that it costs the same, but sustainability for our consumers and ourselves is the biggest gain. I hope it will take off with more products and also non-organic. I can only imagine what a bigger retailer would be able to save. I really hope it spreads.”

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