Avocados to be marked by laser to reduce labelling

IT is the country's most fashionable fruit, with demand soaring as brunch recipes and even desserts become part of the nation's dinner table.

The retailers will user lasers to mark the fruit with information such as the sell-by date.
The retailers will user lasers to mark the fruit with information such as the sell-by date.

But now, one supermarket has worked out a way of reducing waste and labelling on packaging of avocados - by printing information on the skin rather than a paper label.

Marks & Spencer said a successful trial could lead to the initiative being rolled out to other fruits and vegetables.

It believes the move, which will use less energy and lead to a lower carbon footprint, is a first for the UK.

Earlier this year, Dutch fruit and veg supplier Nature & More collaborated with Swedish supermarket ICA to pioneer the technology, replacing the sticky labels on organic avocados and sweet potatoes with a laser mark.

The labelling works by shining intense light onto the avocado’s skin, which retracts back and discolours only the very top layer, meaning it does not damage the fruit.

The avocados are lasered with the M&S logo, the best before date, country of origin and product code for entering at the till.

M&S fruit technologist Charlie Curtis said: “When we first saw the technology in Sweden a couple of years ago, I knew we had to get involved.

“We’ve been following it for a while and are so excited to finally be launching it on avocados.”

He added: “Sustainability is at the heart of our business and the laser labelling is a brilliant way for us to reduce packaging and energy use.”

M&S first introduced avocados back in 1968 as an “Avocado Pear”, which customers enjoyed as a dessert with custard.

Last year the retailer sold 12 million avocados, with sales up 29 per cent on the year.

The retailer trialled a similar laser technique a few years ago on citrus fruit using a different technology, but, while it looked effective and was quick to apply, it caused a slight deterioration in skin quality and was discontinued.

Mr Curtis said: “Providing all goes well with the avocado lasering, we could look at rolling the technology out to all sorts of other fruit and vegetables in the future.

“We have the potential to reduce packaging exponentially which is very exciting.”

Leigh Sparks, professor of retail studies at Stirling University, said that M&S had removed labels from its underwear in recent years -c replacing them with information printed on the fabric.

He said: “This is a similar thing, although in a different market.It means they don’t have the cost of attaching a label and the customer doesn’t have the trouble of it falling off. I can see the benefit if they can make it work.”

Last year, M&S sparked a social media storm among environmental campaigners when it launched pre sliced, packaged avocado, which critics said created unneccessary waste.

It also last year began selling both mini and giant variations of the fad fruit in response to increased demand.

Avocados have become a popular food amid claims that they contain “healthy fat”, with many “clean eating” chefs such as St Andrews University graduate Ella Woodward, of the Deliciously Ella series of blogs and cookbooks, lauding their benefits.

A Zero Waste Scotland spokeswoman said: “We welcome initiatives that look to prevent waste from occurring wherever possible, such as this move from Marks and Spencer. It’s important to consider reducing food waste as well as packaging as that has a big environmental impact too. We hope that all retailers continue to look at new ways to reduce waste.”

The laser-labelled avocados are available from Thursday in selected stores.