With the approval of EU legislation and a major distribution and marketing deal, innovative laser labelling technology could be about to make its mark
Two years ago, a piece of legislation was approved by the European Commission (EC) that marked the culmination of a decade’s worth of research and development. EC regulation 510/2013 effectively opened the way to laser labelling for fresh produce by formally approving the contrasting liquid used in the process.
The true scale of this apparently innocuous piece of legislation may well be seen later this year as an agreement between the originators of the technology, Spanish company Laser Food, and its US marketing and distribution partner, JBT Corporation, reaches fruition.
Speaking from his office near Valencia, Laser Food’s head of international business development, Stephane Merit, explains what the significance of both developments could mean for the future of laser labelling, not just in Europe, but at a global level.
Merit says the company’s Laser Mark system adds value for retailers by enabling supermarkets to differentiate their fresh produce offering in the form of an indelible mark on the surface of each piece of fruit, which can range from a logo to a traceable code or a regional promotion.
This process, he is keen to emphasise, comprises two elements: a laser that removes a minuscule area of the fruit surface without affecting the interior in any way, and the application of a contrasting liquid that enables the brand name or code to be seen.
With sales of fruit in single units common in UK supermarkets, Merit says a further useful option offered by the technology is the application of Price Look-Up Codes (PLUs), which are typically found on traditional fruit labels.
One of the key benefits of laser labelling is the fact that the eco-friendly technology has a minimal impact on resources and reduces waste products.
Merit believes the technology offers significant benefits to a UK grocery retailer sector that is increasingly aware of the need to pursue ethical environmental practices and reduce its carbon footprint by all but removing the requirement for paper labelling.
Laser Mark, he says, can effectively eliminate the use of paper, inks and tape used in conventional paper labelling, as well as saving the energy and cost of manufacturing and transporting the labels to packhouses.
The closeness of Laser Food to the topic of carbon footprint reduction is evident from the financial support the company received during the development of the Laser Mark system from the EU’s Eco Innovation programme, which funds environmentally beneficial projects.
Given this emphasis, it is maybe unsurprising that the UK represents one of Laser Food’s most important markets, perhaps the most important, at a global level.
According to Merit, the principal reason for this focus is that the UK, as well as being a major consumer of fruits and vegetables, is also a market that values high quality fresh produce and is prepared to pay more if they believe they are purchasing better quality products.
“The UK is a very demanding market, but it is very open to new ideas,” says Merit.
“The majority of countries that export fresh fruits and vegetables export – or want to export – their products to the UK and most of these countries represent potential markets for the sale of our Laser Mark indelible labelling technology.”
Merit says Laser Food has already received a great deal of interest from UK supermarket operators in its system and the ways in which the technology could be used in their stores.
“The retailers are usually interested for the reasons we have already discussed, but they also view Laser Mark as a fantastic tool for marketing because it is something completely new and fruit labelled in this way could be more attractive to consumers,” he adds.
Laser Food’s development at an international level is likely to be given a significant boost during the course of 2015 following the signing of a major agreement between the company and US-based JBT Corporation, which manufactures and markets machinery across food and drink sectors.
Under the terms of the agreement, JBT, which has a presence in over 25 countries, will market, distribute and in some cases manufacture the Laser Mark system; providing a point of entry into markets that were previously difficult for Laser Food to reach.
As JBT’s associate product manager for fresh produce technologies, Amy Bittner, explains, much of the fresh produce that arrives from around the globe onto the retail shelves in the UK has been washed, waxed, labelled, or packaged on equipment supplied by JBT.
“JBT and our customers recognise the UK market as a key player in the industry,” she says. “Whether it is pineapples from Costa Rica, citrus from the US or South Africa, or tropical fruits from Thailand, there are very few JBT customers and partners who do not rely on the UK produce buyers to ensure our long-term success.”
When looking at fresh produce export market data for almost any country around the world, Bittner says the UK is invariably located towards the top of every list.
As a result, she says both JBT and its customers view the UK as a premium market and focus efforts on ensuring fruits and vegetables exported to the country meet the high standards expected by British consumers.
“Buyers in the UK have seen the added value of JBT products for over 80 years, as our worldwide customers have been supplying the highest quality fruit to this market since the inception of our first coatings and equipment in the 1930s,” says Bittner.
“Through our partnership with Laser Food, we further expand our portfolio to include laser labelling, an eco-friendly technology that also offers the ultimate in brand identification.”
Laser Food and JBT Corporation were present at the London Produce Show and Conference 2015 on June 3-5, where they highlighted the Laser Mark system and JBT’s extensive range of post-harvest coatings and cleaners, as well as fresh produce packing and processing equipment.