Erik Månsson, CEO of Innoscentia, gives us some insight into this dynamic shelf life labeling technology that aims to reduce waste, improve food safety, and implement traceability throughout the entire value chain.
One of our founders, Martin Olsson, who was a fellow researcher at Lund University in the South of Sweden, experienced food poisoning, twice within a short period of time, from contaminated “fresh” meat.
These experiences got him thinking about whether there was a way to indicate the status of the meat in real-time. Initially, the purpose was from a safety point of view, whereas now, we focus more on shelf life.
Martin started looking into different ways of indicating the status of the meat in real-time, while still in the packaging, and this is basically how we came up with reactive inks; inks that react with the gases that are emitted during the degradation process.
This was how the concept of dynamic shelf life labeling was conceived. A lot of research has taken place and throughout the last couple of years we’ve learned so much about food waste and why it happens, expiry dates, and why there’s such an issue linked to this.
Solving this part of the value chain has become our main purpose. In addition, we can protect end customers from eating a “bad” piece of meat because of perhaps a fault in the cold chain, for example.
It’s a chemical, technical product that’s based on reactive ink that reacts in line with the gases that evolve in the package. Without going into too much technical detail, with the degradation of food, certain bacterias evolve, and they grow over time.
They grow faster in warmer temperatures and slower in colder temperatures which is why we have cold chains in the food industry. When a product has a certain amount of these bacterias, the meat will start to taste and smell different, and the product is referred to as “spoiled” and shouldn’t be consumed.
These bacteria emit gases, and we measure the gas levels inside the package. This is why we work with closed packages so the gases can be measured within. We don’t yet work with vacuum-packed products as there’s no room for gases inside, but this is something we’ll be looking at in the future.
For now, we’re focusing on tray packages with a film cover. We print our reactive ink onto a label which we position on the inside of the film cover, so it’s clearly visible from the outside.
We’re not yet on the market and are about to launch the pilot testing. One of the first things we’ll test will be the impact that we’ll potentially have. What we do know from previous tests, is that by adding only two days to a product's shelf life, you can reduce food waste at home by up to 50%, and in retail stores up to 60%.
Supermarkets will reduce their food waste tremendously. We know that in Sweden, supermarkets currently throw away approximately 5% of all their fresh meat, in the US it’s around 10%, and on an international level, we’re clearly looking at a lot more. It’ll have an enormous economic and environmental impact on them.
The end customers, of course, will benefit, as they too can reduce food waste, and therefore costs, while assuring safety and hygiene at the same time.
Our customers are in fact the producers of these products. Unless the producers have an agreement with the retail stores to share the costs of food waste, they won’t benefit directly from our technology.
However, they can benefit from a potential price premium on the products that we’ve validated with the end customers, and also brand value. Being a meat producer is already tough, and this will become tougher as we look more closely at the environmental impact this industry has. There will be a huge drive from meat producers to reduce their impact in any way they can.
We’ve worked with both analog and digital over the last six years. We have a functional prototype of the digital version, but we have to make it more cost-effective. If no one can afford to have printed digital labels, no one will go for that option.
We’re now able to manufacture the analog version at a very low cost, and so it fits well within the possible price premium and well below the values that the producers get out of it. It’s simply a matter of calibration and going to market.
We see the analog version as a first introduction to the market of the digital version where we need to teach the end customer that the expiry dates we have are static, and that a dynamic version is way more effective.
Going digital opens a whole world of opportunity in terms of aggregating data and creating more efficient systems for producers, retailers, and customers.
With our pilot testing, we’re working closely with producers and retailers so that we have the whole value chain at our side. In the end, it will be those who package the products that will be our customers. They’ll be buying the trays, the top film, and our labels.
First of all, we’re going to market with the analog label for meat. This comes with a whole host of challenges. We’re also going to certify the label in line with the EU standards, both for food contact and intelligent materials.
We then also have a lot of pilot testing to complete and we have some of the big Nordic companies lined up to do this, firstly on a small scale, but then on a larger scale in their facilities and stores.
We then need customer feedback so we’ll probably end up doing some design alterations. We’ll be out there doing all of the above next year, which is super exciting after six years of R&D...Watch this space!