NATURAL BRANDING – A CHALLENGE TO PLASTIC WASTE
No more plastic bags at the supermarket; the first countries prohibit plastic drinking straws and disposable cups. Humankind recognises that we now have to act so as not to suffocate under the growing mountain of plastic waste. Yet, with fruit and vegetable of all things, the consumer is faced with an irresolvable contradiction in the supermarket – ecological products are on sale packed in plastic. There is method in this madness, and up to now there have been few alternatives. However, in the era of plastic, Natural Branding demonstrates that it is an expedient and even a cheaper alternative, at least for many varieties of fruit and vegetables.
Natural Branding goes one step further towards true organic packaging
There is a simple insight behind the Natural Branding procedure: why do we have to look around for packaging alternatives when products already have the best packaging on them? Nature has designed each fruit or vegetable peel precisely according to the storage requirements of a fruit or vegetable. There is essentially no difference between the hard shell of a coconut and the thinner protective layer of a cucumber. Both protect the inside of the fruit or vegetable from environmental effects, both ensure cushioning from impact damage in the growing environment, and both enclose the product perfectly from the exterior on all sides.
Besides this, every skin or peel on fruit or vegetables always consists of a coloured upper layer in which most of the pigments are to be found. These include more or fewer levels of colour which have their own protective function. From the perspective of marking, fruit or vegetable peel is also a perfect surface for marking. In theory, a lemon has enough space for placing an organic seal prominently and visibly. An entire story could even be accommodated on a banana using the relevant marking device. The problem with these considerations before was how to permanently mark the peel while not damaging the fruit or vegetable or altering it chemically, and without having to resort to additional means such as adhesives, colours or pigments. Natural Branding has found the answer. With this method of marking fruit and vegetables, a laser removes the topmost layer of pigment from the peel according to computer-controlled specifications. This colour removal is carried out so precisely that logos, lettering and text can be marked permanently on a fruit or vegetable in an exact size and position within fractions of a second.
This form of marking foodstuffs is something like reverse tattooing: Instead of adding colour, the colour is taken away from the peel. This creates a negative that is clear in terms of legibility and contrasts. It is possible because the uppermost layer of peel always contains the highest concentration of colour pigments. The laser focuses exclusively on this layer, so that the parts of the product underneath it are not affected. The peel thereby contains the same protective function that it would have without Natural Branding. No additive – let alone plastic – is required in any single marking stage of this process. Nor is any form of packaging necessary afterwards. Ultimately, ecological products with a branded organic label are clearly recognisable as such and are distinguishable from the conventional products in the supermarket.
With the latest machinery, such as the NB 3002 from EcoMark, it is not necessary for a person to monitor the marking process at any stage. Everything, from identifying the optimum logo position to the optimum running speed for the fruits or vegetables on the belt to the optimum penetration depth of the laser in fruits or vegetables that are grown differently, is carried out in a fully automated and computer-assisted procedure. This is precisely the reason why Natural Branding is receiving more and more attention.
Ecological yet economical: Natural Branding creates the balance
Whether for the producer or in the retail company: Each (unnecessary) processing stage on the way from the field to the customer takes time and money. The packaging or marking represented a large proportion of this up to now. Previous first steps with different variants of Natural Branding were not able to minimise the costs here. Only innovative machines and methods, such as those from EcoMark, are able to balance the time and cost outlay against packaging made of plastic, and even undercut it considerably. The same applies in comparison with stickers or other marking alternatives. For modern Natural Branding solves the familiar problems of packaging logistics simply:
- even thin-skinned products can be marked without altering the quality
- The marking is carried out fully automated without extra work involving people
- Marking is carried out without stopping the belt – “on the fly”, individually or directly in the crate
- The labelling time is as low as 0.3 seconds for each item
- 10. Design or logo changes can be implemented virtually within the control software with just a few clicks
Each crate of fruit or vegetables is therefore ready for delivery in record time. As all marking is computer-controlled and is placed where it should be, there is no need for typical checking tasks for the packaging. At the same time, idle running is decreased when changing between different types of field products. After a batch of avocados, it is possible to change the Natural Branding machine over to marking limes in just a few seconds.
Neither new stickers nor sleeves have to be sought, nor does the alignment of the machine have to be altered. Employees set the relevant logo and program in the control software and the rest is carried out fully automatically. One of the most important arguments is and remains, however, that neither chemical additives, nor adhesives, nor plastics in any form are required for Natural Branding. The method not only takes away the colour but also considerable cost factors in the ecological and annual budget of a company.
Is Natural Branding really safe?
If a laser meets a surface, this alters the condition of the surface – users from the industry know this. Thus, scepticism certainly prevails with regard to Natural Branding too. For if the peel is “damaged” this can have an effect on the quality and shelf life of an agricultural product. Therefore, many supermarkets that are accepting products with Natural Branding in their range on a trail basis, concentrate on products such as avocados. Their peel is particularly thin and is not edible. They want to make customers familiar with the methods in this way, and remove concerns about products being substandard.
This concern is completely unfounded, however. Ultimately, nothing is added to the product and/or peel here. The laser only removes colour pigments. Secondly, the penetration depth is so shallow that the protective layers of the peel are not affected. The uppermost layer consists practically only of colour pigments, and the actual peel only begins underneath this. It is therefore not a problem to eat the whole of a fruit or vegetable that has laser marking. It can also be composted. Neither the shelf life nor the environment are compromised by the method.
Not least, the laser marking of fruit and vegetables has been fully approved by organic certification bodies. If the procedure were to have any kind of effect on the product, the strict organic watchdogs would not have authorised its introduction onto the market. It is only with very sensitive products such as citrus fruits that the shelf life may be reduced slightly. However, the experience shows that unpackaged organic products are sold more quickly than their counterparts in plastic. This small factor is thereby balanced out from the perspective of the retailer as well as the customer.