Raylase’s natural branding & laser labelling of fresh produce

Safe & sustainable food labelling alternative – positive CO2 footprint

Natural branding of fresh fruit and vegetables using Raylase's blue laser Photo Raylase
Natural branding of fresh fruit and vegetables using Raylase's blue laser Photo Raylase

Raylase asks why supermarket chains have famously declared war on plastic bags, but when it comes to food packaging, they are taking their time. Why is that? As with anything, there are pros and cons – for one, single households in particular want smaller portions, which leads to more packaging. On the other hand, many retailers stick to plastic because of the known advantages in shelf life and food preservation. But consumer pressure is growing as people place increasing value on loose foods in an effort to end the packaging madness and protect the earth from further pollution.

Natural labelling using a blue laser from Raylase Photo Raylase
Natural labelling using a blue laser from Raylase Photo Raylase

Consumers often ask themselves why organic products like cucumbers of all things are shrink-wrapped in plastic. What an anachronism! Does that sound like common sense? Back in 2018, Ocean Care in Switzerland managed to wring a promise from major food retailers to change this by starting a petition against plastic for organic goods. According to the organisation, “It was great to see a drop in the proportion of plastic packaging from four of the Swiss food suppliers under review. Coop Switzerland reduced its plastic packaging by 7.7%, Aldi managed a decrease of 8% and Lidl achieved 8.7%.” The 2019 statistics provided by the organisation – committed to protecting marine wildlife – confirm this trend. Among other things, this progress can be attributed to innovative “natural branding” technology which acts in a way like a laser tattoo. The new process offers an effective, ecological, fast, flexible, versatile, and safe alternative to food labelling, especially for organic fruit and vegetables, and meets EU standards.

In the natural branding process, a laser controlled by a deflection unit removes the top pigment layer of the natural skin of the food. Natural branding with laser does not require any additional color and impregnates the desired lettering or company logo directly onto the food by means of a focused light beam. Achieved using a blue laser light system in a cold marking process, it generates negligible heat on the goods. It also exhibits high absorption, good processing efficiency and low energy output. The method is currently used on foods like garlic, onions, nuts, eggs, lemons, mangoes, or sweet potatoes. Already tried and tested abroad, the technology has been in use in Australia since 2009. “Natural branding is risk-free. Marking with a blue laser system that includes an opto-mechanical deflection unit offers many advantages including high reliability, long service life, minimal space requirements and a safe process. It also offers completely new possibilities for sustainable and resource-efficient marking,” affirms Wolfgang Lehmann, product manager at Raylase.

With precise positioning and an accurate focus, the laser beam can be adapted exactly to the shape of the food. This prevents damage, premature spoilage and contamination of fruit and vegetables. There is also no loss of freshness, fragrance, taste, aroma, or shelf life. And best of all, the energy required to mark the food is less than 1% of the energy needed to produce a conventional sticker, while CO2 emissions for laser marking are less than 0.2% of those needed for a comparably sized sticker. “With natural branding, retailers can save literally tons of plastic used for organic food alone in Germany and significantly improve their CO2 emissions,” says Raylase CEO Dr Philipp Schön, commending the benefits of the state-of-the-art process.

Unfortunately, the list of cons cited by many supermarket chains is still long. For example, the need for packaging that ensures there is no confusion between organic products and conventional goods, and prevents pesticide residues from conventional products transferring onto organic goods. From the retailer’s point of view, some form of protective packaging for food simply seems better. However, with the movement towards regionalism in food retail and growing consumer pressure, things are now changing. For example, in Bavaria eggs and nuts are already often laser branded. “But so much more is possible,” says Dr. Schön, who is convinced, “because the limits of this process are set only by the product. Provided the shell is not too thin or delicate, natural branding can be applied anywhere with easy readability and clear contrast definition. And food labelled this way is completely safe to consume.”

Natural labelling of fresh fruit without any ink Photo Raylase
Natural labelling of fresh fruit without any ink Photo Raylase

Slowly but surely, a shift is happening. ‘Laser labelling’ is increasingly being discovered by well-known food producers, packaging manufacturers and supermarkets like Edeka in Germany, ICA in Sweden and M&S in the UK. Through natural branding, Edeka plans to save 50 tons in packaging material for fruit and vegetables, and Rewe and Aldi also aim to test suitability on further products.

Buying certified organic foods is no guarantee for environmentally friendly packaging. “But it makes sense that organic food production – if not to be considered ‘green washing’ – should be followed as much as possible by resource-saving ecological packaging. In this respect, natural branding gives maximum credibility,” stresses Harnesh Singh, responsible for Sales & Marketing at Raylase. Avoiding excessive plastic, paper, cellophane, or trays is also good news for consumers who want to reduce their own carbon footprint and therefore consciously seek out the unpackaged goods.

Natural and ink-less branding for food using a laser from Raylase Photo Raylase
Natural and ink-less branding for food using a laser from Raylase Photo Raylase

So, the way ahead is clear for the new energy-saving star of the laser industry! The blue 450nm laser with 6-11W scan systems is ready to make its mark on the food industry for organic products and more. “The blue laser light in combination with our deflection units offers a safe, eco-friendly solution for all types of marking applications. The market for ‘natural branding’ is bursting with opportunities,” Dr Schön is in no doubt about that.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

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