A new food labelling technology developed at the University of Strathclyde could significantly reduce the quantity of wasted food thrown out by Scottish households. The labels, developed by spin-out Insignia Technologies, can tell shoppers when the food is at its freshest by changing colour.
According to The Herald, Scotland’s households disposed of around 360,000 tonnes of still-edible food in 2014. Zero Waste Scotland, an organisation bringing awareness to food and material waste, prices this cost at £1.1 billion, or £470 per Scottish household. But the firm also claims that the quantity of waste is significantly higher than this, as commercial and industrial food refuse accounts for more than half of the total.
Insignia’s smart labels have been successfully trialled in Sainsbury’s branded cooked ham at 1,100 shops up and down the UK. In these tests the labels displayed reminders ‘Just opened’, ‘Use soon’ and, ‘Past best’.
David Kilshaw, Chief Executive of Insignia Technologies, claimed that the tech, “Will be vital in changing consumer behaviour and tackling the issue of unnecessary food waste, which is undoubtedly one of the biggest economic and environmental challenges the world faces.” Mr. Kilshaw told The Herald that if shoppers save £0.04 for every slice they would have thrown out, preventing just one-quarter of this would put £6.9 million back into public purses.
“However, when you take into account the cost of making the product, packaging the product, i.e. using a retail price for a pack of ham, the saving could be closer to a total of £150 million per year,” he noted.
Insignia was formed in 2012, through a merger between Dundee-based Insignia Pack and Novas Technologies, also a University of Strathclyde spin-out. From its headquarters in the Lanarkshire-based incubator Biocity, Insignia has signed deals with restaurant chains in the US and Canada to extend the life of their salads, and is planning to extend current trials to South Africa. In 2013, the firm won £865,000 investment from organisations led by Equity Gap, including Highland Venture Capital, the Scottish Investment Bank and the University of Strathclyde.
Debbie Allan, Product Development Manager of Insignia, said that through measurements the labels could maximise, not increase, the shelf-life of edible products. “After opening a packet of cold meat, for example, the label starts to change colour to tell you how long it has been open in the fridge. A packet of ham may have a two week shelf life but what a lot of people don’t realise is that once opened that drops to two or three days. So people either don’t know that and it goes off, or they can’t remember when it was opened.”
She noted that the firm’s USP was its ability to price its labels cheaper than any of its competitors – at £0.01 per label for the ham trials. She said: “Otherwise supermarkets won’t consider it. Other technologies have failed because they have to hit those cost points.”