19 Mar 2018 --- Danish milk, cheese and cream giant, Arla, is set to trial launch a new high-tech food label that turns ‘bumpy’ when food has expired on its dairy products. The innovation – developed by a start-up company, Mimica, – holds hope of reducing food waste as labels deteriorate at the same rate as the packaged product, providing consumers with an accurate indication as to whether food is edible, or ready for the bin.
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Mimica's new "bumpy' label
According to the recycling body, Wrap, the average UK household disposes of £470 worth of food annually and in 2015, 7.3 tons of food was thrown away, of which an estimated 4.4 tons were avoidable. Likewise, The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN estimates that globally one-third of food produce is wasted, particularly fruit and vegetables.
Solveiga Pakštaitė, Founder, and Director of Mimica, spoke to FoodIngredientsFirst about how the ‘bumpy’ label can help to tackle the global issue of food waste: ”At the moment, supermarkets use ‘worst-case scenario’ dates because they are not able to track exactly what temperatures food travels at in the supply chain and, on some occasions, accidents happen and food is kept at a higher temperature than required.”
”In most cases, the worst case scenario never comes, and so with the Mimica Touch, we would allow supermarkets to display the longer ‘expected date’ because if something does go wrong, then the label will turn bumpy and the product can be pulled off the shelf. By bringing in a biologically-accurate indicator, more often than not it will prove that our food lasts a lot longer than we think it does, and this has the potential to reduce enormous amounts of food waste.”
Pakštaite was previously named MIT Technology Review’s Inventor of the Year for the food expiry label. ”Creating this kind of freshness indicator has never been done before and so it's taken the Mimica R&D team two and a half years to develop the technology.”
”One of the early barriers for us was finding a lab with the specialized gel experimental equipment we needed to develop the product, and in the end, we ended up partnering with the University of Chester that has a rare gels research lab and basing our R&D team among the top experts in this specialized field.”
”The label is calibrated specifically for each food product and gives a tactile response - smooth when fresh and bumpy when the food is no longer safe for consumption. If the food is spoiling quicker than usual due to an increase in temperature, so will the label.”
Wrap has estimated that dairy products could have an extra three days of shelf life with label technology such as Mimica Touch able to accurately indicate the freshness of products.
Arla have signed a pilot agreement with Mimica and plan to run consumer tests in the UK later this year to gauge market reaction in anticipation of a commercial roll-out of the new labels in supermarkets. Harry Barraza, Head of Open Innovation at Arla, spoke to FoodIngredientsFirst about the project: ”Consumer research is about to begin in the UK market so that we can understand how customers react to the innovation.”
“We expect, given the simplicity of the product and its potential to make food management easier, that it will be well received. The tactile nature of the product also means that it could have significant benefits for individuals with visual impairment and we are excited to see if these benefits can be realized.”
“Innovation plays a key part of our Good Growth 2020 strategy, as does our commitment to doing business responsibly. Mimica’s new indicator could help give additional confidence as to when a product has expired. In turn this could reduce food waste which is an essential focus for us as we find ways to make our business as sustainable as possible.”
From a business perspective, there is logic behind Arla’s project, with Innova Market Insights pinpointing the ’mindful consumer’ as one of its top predicted market trends for 2018. The ’mindful consumer’ prioritizes the ethical and environmental impact of the products they purchase.
Jessica Burt, Associate of Food Law at national law firm Mills & Reeve, comments: “Dairy and milk products are the main sector where significant food waste occurs, making this a very encouraging innovation by Arla. However, it remains to be seen if this ‘bump’ test will be easily understood by consumers and be sufficiently clear to stop those risk-averse consumers from simply disposing of the product at the ‘best before’ date irregardless.”
By Joshua Poole
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