Smart label to cut food waste could save shoppers £150m

TECHNOLOGY developed at the University of Strathclyde could help shoppers save £150 million by reducing the 1.9 million slices of ham thrown out by Brits every day.

Spin-out firm Insignia Technologies has developed a smart label which helps to track when food is at its freshest. It is currently seeking additional funding to fast track the commercialisation of its technology.

In 2014, Scottish households threw out 360,000 tonnes of food which had could have been consumed.

Government agency Zero Waste Scotland has put the cost of this waste at £1.1 billion, or £460 for every household.

David Kilshaw, chief executive of Insignia Technologies, said: “We believe [the technology] 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.”

The labels feature time and temperature monitoring and use a colour-changing smart plastic to highlight to consumers when a product is approaching, and has passed, the end of its edible life.

Environment agency WRAP estimates that 70 per cent of the ham thrown away is still edible. Mr Kilshaw said that based on 4p per slice then preventing even one quarter of this would result in a £6.9m saving.

“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 £150m per year,” he said.

Based at the life science research centre Biocity in Lanarkshire, Insignia was formed in 2012 through a merger between Dundee-based Insignia Pack and Novas Technologies, a University of Strathclyde spin-out.

And discussions are underway in South America, along with hope of expanding the Sainsbury’s contract.

In 2013, the business won £865,000 of investment, led by Equity Gap along with Highland Venture Capital, the Scottish Investment Bank, the University of Strathclyde and a number of private investors.

Debbie Allan, chief technology officer, explained that the technology does not extend the shelf life of a product, but maximises it.

“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.”

By using technology which can identify the temperature of a fridge as well as how long a packet has been opened, shelf-life can be maximised. “We can’t stop food waste where food has gone off, but we can try and tackle that unnecessary waste where food might be edible but people aren’t sure and throw it out,” she said.

“The key USP (unique selling point) for us is that we’ve kept our tech cheap, cost effective, about 1p per label for the ham application. Otherwise supermarkets won’t consider it. Other technologies have failed because they have to hit those cost points.”