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Source: Oli-Tec

Ex-Iceland MD Nigel Broadhurst is backing a technology company whose smart labelling system promises to make best-before and sell-by dates obsolete.

Aiming to slash food waste, Oli Tec’s smart label system features a time and temperature-sensitive panel that changes from yellow to red over a 15-day period. The colour change happens faster at higher temperatures and slows down in cold conditions. Other optional features for the label include a thermometer icon, which displays as blue when it is being stored at a required temperature.

Oli Tec is currently in conversation with several supermarkets and suppliers in the UK and US to secure a large-scale trial of its technology and is looking for a major partner to prove it at scale.

Broadhurst – who has invested in the firm and became a director in June – told The Grocer the Oli Tec label “could be revolutionary in the reduction of food waste – both in the home and in-store”.

The label benefited suppliers, retailers and consumers, Oli Tec said.

For producers and retailers, the labels made it easier to identify “violations” in the cold supply chain. If there were any, only those products that had got too warm, as opposed to an entire pallet, would have to be removed, it said. Meanwhile, “supermarkets have a massive challenge checking chilled food date codes – it costs many hours of wages and is always a challenge to maintain stock rotation”, said Broadhurst. Trials suggest the labels mean “store waste can be substantially reduced”.

Broadhurst added: “Oli Tec has the potential to extend product shelf life to the consumer as it removes the need for contingency date planning because it dynamically replicates the actual life of a product by being sensitive to both time and temperature.”

There are several time and temperature-sensitive labels already on the market, but their adoption has been hampered, Oli Tec says, by high costs and capex requirements. Oli Tec labels cost about 2p and require no special storage, and the labelling machine can be added to standard label printers with no slowing down of production lines.

“Savings in labour and waste therefore have the potential to offset the cost of the label,” Broadhurst said.

According to the most recent report by Wrap, the UK produces around 9.5 million tonnes of food waste each year.

A study carried out by the European Commission in 2018 estimated up to 10% of food waste in Europe was caused because of confusion around the way products were date marked.

“Current use-by and best-before systems do not work,” said Oli-Tec CEO Nik Richardson. “They are not reactive and have no relevance to the period of opening, and storage conditions thereafter. The Oli-Tec label provides accurate and easy to understand colour information to the consumer, enabling food to be consumed safely within the appropriate time.”

Oli-Tec’s launch comes as several supermarkets have this year ditched best-before dates across a raft of fresh produce and dairy products, as part of an effort to reduce food waste by encouraging customers to use their own judgement when deciding if a product is still good to eat.

“Oli-Tec, if adopted by the supermarket chains, will have a significant impact on the reduction of waste in the food supply chain, contributing significantly to the global Net Zero challenge,” Broadhurst added.

Broadhurst resigned from Iceland in 2020 after nearly four decades at the frozen food chain.