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Laser Marking . . . Potatoes?

Picking those annoying stickers off your fruit and veg could soon be a thing of the past thanks to laser marking technology.

Fruit and veg supplier Nature & More are working with Swedish supermarket ICA to replace sticky labels on organic avocados and sweet potatoes with a simple laser mark. UK supermarket Marks and Spencer are also using it on coconuts.

Laser marking on a cucumber

Named 'Natural Branding', the technique uses a laser marker to remove the pigment from the skin of the produce to create a 'label' that is invisible once the skin is removed.

Eco Friendly

The fruit sticker is not generally considered to be a major environmental concern, but removing it from produce will create savings in plastic, energy and CO2 emissions. Laser technology produces less than one percent of the carbon emissions needed to produce an equivilant sticker.

ICA business unit manager Peter Hagg, claims that “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.” Under EU rules all individual items have to be marked which explains the need for stickers if you are a supermarket selling fruit or veg loose. Laser marking not only avoids the problem of stickers falling off but is sure to be faster and cheaper in the long run - as well as more environmentally friendly.

Tricky Stickers

The ICA trial has started with products where sticking labels to skin is difficult - sweet potatoes and avocados being good examples. There are problems to overcome, such as the ability of citrus skin to 'heal' itself making the laser mark less effective - as M&S discovered when they trialled the process on oranges. But once issues like this are overcome there is no reason that laser marking shouldn't expand onto other fruit and vegetables, such as apples, nectarines and oranges.

The diversity and range of industrial laser marking continues with the sweet potato now added to a list which currently includes a huge range of materials from steel to the finest paper.