Some describe it as “smart labelling”. Others describe it as “smart branding”. At EcoMark we simply call it Natural Branding. This involves the additive-free and material-free marking of fruit and vegetables. But why does the same procedure keep being given different names? Why do we say Natural Branding? And what problems does the variety of descriptions cause? We have taken a closer look at this.
What is the procedure behind the different names for Natural Branding?
No matter what description is used: it is always about the marking of fruit and vegetables with a CO2laser. This laser removes the colour-intensive pigments of the topmost layer of peel. A negative image arises from this, for example, because the organic mark, the eco-branding or logo are marked clearly and permanently on the peel. Labels, additional packaging made of plastic and other marking carriers thereby become superfluous.
Because this procedure only processes the topmost layer of the peel, no changes occur with regard to the shelf life, freshness and quality of the products. However, the plastic mountain is considerably reduced. For Natural Branding solves a great contradiction in the organic industry:
Ecologically produced fruit and vegetables must be recognisable straight away and stand out clearly from products from conventional agriculture. This was previously only possible via additional packaging. However, the major retail chains, the upstream sales companies and not least the producers must find ways to retain credibility in the continuing organic boom and satisfy the demand for true ecological production.
What descriptions are in circulation for the laser marking of fruit and vegetables?
All terms for Natural Branding try to combine the innovativeness of the process with its purpose. At the retail chain Edeka, the whole thing is called smart branding. Smart because it precludes the need for additional packaging and also ensures that for, example, labels can no longer become detached or illegible. And “smart” due to already known topics such as “smart home” or “smartphone”.
The discounter Netto is going down a similar route and describes the laser branding of products as “smart labelling”. Again, the smart approach has been selected here, combined with the term “label” as a thoroughly well-known word.
In a Spanish pilot project, the term “Lasermark” was used, which describes the process very precisely. Depending on the medium used to report on the pilot projects for the various supermarkets, the process or the successes of EcoMark, terms such as “organic branding”, “laser branding” or “laser labelling” are also in circulation.
Even at an international level, little uniformity of the term prevails. Tech blogs or other providers even talk of “natural light labelling”. The problem with this term – at least for the German-speaking market, is that firstly it is too long, and secondly it is somewhat misleading.
For when they hear “natural light”, most people think of sunlight. Although laser is actually no more than concentrated light and is therefore “natural”. However, lasers are also a highly technologised thing that must be made usable with precision and corresponding systems.
Besides this, “natural light labelling” is reminiscent of stencil technology, which is being tested as an alternative variant by some fruit and vegetable farmers. Here, a lightproof stencil in the form of a label is applied to the unripe product. In the ripening process, the colour of the peel is altered by sunlight while the area under the stencil remains lighter. This process has proven to be less economical and too prone to errors up to now. Also, a laser generates more precise and finer lines than a stencil ever could.
Like EcoMark, the Rewe Group has decided on the term natural branding. This description is well-known and in circulation internationally. The effect of the word “natural” on the image should not be underestimated either. For naturalness is key for the consumer and is central to the organic boom. This word also points to additional packaging, synthetic adhesives and colours or other questionable resources simply not being necessary.
Which description is correct for laser branding?
The harmlessness of the laser marking of fruit and vegetables was confirmed in 2013 in EU regulation no. 510/2013.
This cleared the way for the wide establishment of Natural Branding. If the objective is for there to be a legally correct term, it should be possible to find it in these regulations.
However, the procedure is simply called “permanent branding” or “depigmentation by a laser beam” here. Therefore, all the terms used are essentially correct, even if the variety of names causes confusion.
Do different names point to different processes?
If Edeka advertise the process for organic fruit and vegetables as Smart Branding, while at the Rewe Group there are products on the shelf using the term Natural Branding, there is largely a reason for this:
Competitors are trying to make a previously unknown procedure popular with the consumer and stand out from the competition. Each supermarket chain ultimately wants to portray a “green image”, lead by good example, and present themselves in a pioneering role. So as not to become lost in the mass of pilot projects, each provider uses a different name.
What is certain though is that all processes used by the various manufacturers for branding products are identical in essence. The CO2laser is therefore central to this and is housed in a more or less flexible machine. The real difference thus lies in how sophisticated the technique in question is.
EcoMark is a successful pioneer here, and has developed machines for Natural Branding which not only enable ecologically valuable branding but also a high level of efficiency. The laser can be readjusted directly at the machine in seconds and set for different product categories accordingly. Besides this, logos or branding elements can be reprogrammed very quickly.
One of the most important points, however, is the flexible adaptability of the laser to the differing degree of ripeness and thickness of the peel. For every fruit or vegetable has to be marked differently so that the freshness and shelf life are maintained. Even the smallest differences in height of the peel can have a major effect. A well thought-out system for Natural Branding must automatically factor this in. A key feature with EcoMark is also the option to apply laser branding in the throughput process for entire batches, or individually for crates. This considerably reduces idle time for changing over products, containers or marking.
Depending on the wholesalers and distributors with which each supermarket works, either an EcoMark machine or one from another manufacturer is deployed. And this is often also the reason for the different names.
What problems do different descriptions cause?
The problem with the variety of names is above all, difficulty in acceptance among customers. For if a new term is used in the supermarket each time, it takes longer for the consumer to have understood how the process works, and that it is harmless.
Up to now there have been no analyses as to how the pilot projects have been received in the supermarkets. Besides this, there is a lack of evidence as to whether customers also know how the branding is carried out and why it takes place.
These difficulties are also apparent in the somewhat careful implementation of the pilot projects. Thus, in the initial attempts, only products with thicker, non-edible peel were offered in a Natural Branding version. For many consumer advisers report concerns as to whether the process might change the quality.
One reason for this could be the unfortunate wording in the EU regulation. It states that “Information is etched on to the surface of the fresh fruit”. Etching suggests the use of (very harmful) acids or alkaline solutions to dissolve a structure. However, this is not necessary at all with laser branding and is also not the case.
For the topmost coloured pigment layers of fruit peel are only destroyed by concentrated heat. Educational work is therefore still required here, so that the new technology is perceived as harmless, as the EU regulation otherwise makes it clear is the case.
Also, consumers might possibly misjudge the great potential of laser branding due to the tremendous confusion that prevails. Different names point to different processes and isolated solutions. Natural Branding is preparing to change the entire organic industry from the ground up. Even representatives from conventional agriculture are busying themselves intensively with the savings potentials.
How does the future look for Natural Branding?
Ultimately, we will see which term comes out on top. It is indisputable that this will happen. For there is no more economical and logical solution to the growing packaging waste mountain than completely doing away with plastic, labels and outer packaging. As no end is in sight for the organic boom, more and more products with laser branding will gradually dominate the market – and the most suitable and simplest term will prevail.
At EcoMark we are convinced that this term will be Natural Branding. For not only does it sound good, but it is easy to pronounce and also describes the advantage of the method very precisely. It also has the greatest marketing value. This is not only to do with the word “natural”, it is also thanks to the originality of the term, which will not be confused with other concepts. For words such as “smart” are already associated with electronic meanings in the perception of customers, and they do not suit fruit and vegetables. “Branding” also suggests the use of heat, which makes the process so special. It could hardly be made clearer.