Laser Branded Potatoes

The North Carolina sweet potato industry has pioneered a unique method of labeling its potatoes. Instead of the unwanted stickers, typically found on produce at the grocery store, these potatoes are branded using a laser.

TRANSCRIPT

The North Carolina sweet-potato industry has pioneered a unique method of labeling its potatoes.

Instead of the unwanted stickers typically found on produce at the grocery store, these potatoes are branded using a laser.

Take a look.

Springtime, and another planting of sweet-potato seedlings.

Roughly 50,000 acres of farmland in North Carolina is devoted to sweet-potato production.

That's according to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture.

And it turns out that all of those acres produce enough sweet potatoes for the state to lead the nation in sweet-potato production.

It's also enough to make North Carolina the leading exporter of sweet potatoes.

So it's not surprising that North Carolina's sweet spot is part of a test into what could be the future of produce shopping in America.

It's called natural branding.

That's a low-energy carbon-dioxide laser.

It's marking a North Carolina sweet potato.

Oh, yes -- the warehouse is in the Netherlands.

The company is Eosta.

It's an organic-produce supplier.

We don't put any ink or anything into it.

What we do is, we take the pigment out of the outer layer of the skin of the fruit.

That's basically what happens.

And why do we do that?

It's because, before, we used to have to pack these sweet potatoes in plastic to differentiate them from the non-organic sweet potato.

'Cause the consumer, it's difficult to see whether this is an organic or a non-organic sweet potato.

So what happened was, is we were obliged to pack it in plastic.

Now, people who buy organic, and a lot of other people, they hate plastic.

So it doesn't make sense to do this.

So that's why we developed, together with the University of Valencia, and the company Laserfood, we developed this technology whereby we're actually putting a laser on, taking the pigment out of the skin of the fruit.

So there's a clear difference between the conventional sweet potato and the organic one.

We found those natural-branded sweet potatoes in Malmo, Sweden.

The grocery chain is called ICA.

It's a large chain in Europe.

Natural branding was approved for use in Australia and New Zealand.

It's been recently approved in Europe.

It has not been approved in the United States yet.

You might be wondering, why not just put a tiny sticker on the spud to show the price?

The skin of this apple is very smooth, so the sticker stays on.

When you put a sticker like this on a sweet potato, I would guess, 7 out of 10 times, the sticker would come off.

This method is working extremely well here in ICA.

We started testing this, and now many, many other supermarkets in Europe have come to us and want to do the same thing.

Because when people buy organic, they're very critical consumers.

They want to know, 'What have you done to my fruit?'

But the hatred of this is far bigger than the fact that you've taken some pigment out of the skin of their fruit.

And that's coming out of all the results, all the consumer tests, is that people love this because we're saving this.

The laser doesn't burn the potato skin.

It removes pigment from the skin.

That means the quality and the taste of the potato doesn't change.

I like the sweet potatoes, because it's very smooth and nice, and the flavor is -- it's very good.

The laser draws the programmed logo, which in this case says 'USA,' as well as, 'I love ICA,' the name of the supermarket.

The brand also includes the PLU number, which registers the price.

It helps us to have both conventional and organic in the same time in the store.

Because this is branding that sticks to the product, it doesn't fall off like a normal sticker would do.

You could also, of course, put these organic ones in a punnet with a lot of unnecessary plastic on it, but then it will be an environmental catastrophe to use so much plastic on a perfectly great product like this.

They all think that fiber-based packaging is better than plastic, but if they can choose, they would like to skip the packaging totally.