Produce has to be sent to stores very fast to avoid stores’ having to throw away wilted fruits and veggies. It also has one of the lowest profit margins in the store. An extra minute here or an extra penny there in the supply chain can spell the difference between profit and loss.
The technology we specialize in — Rexroth motion control — is often used for labeling foods. Now, manufacturers have a new challenge in “fruit tattoos,” now that they’ve been approved for use in the EU.
Laser etching fruit requires the use of iron oxides and hydroxides to make the laser cuts really stand out on fruit skin. Now that the EU has approved the new techniques as of June 23, 2013, companies might start using these labeling techniques as a money saving effort. PLU stickers that are used now require food-grade adhesives and are expensive to make and put on fruit. The labeling machines are highly specialized, too, and can be very costly.
Are laser etching machines a solution? Will they be part of our future? It all depends. It’s always an investment to change current procedures to use new technology. However, manufacturers who jump on the bandwagon before it gets crowded might make their money back quickly because of the novelty of a laser etched fruit. Marketing gurus might see this as a better way to engage customers too. And it certainly is the case that a little speed and savings can make a big difference for farmers and fresh food distributors.
Automation is, as we’ve said, a good thing.