Fresh produce misters – saving the planet or just a gimmick?
Dutch retail chain Albert Heijn is testing a misting system for fruit and vegetables in its Maastricht store.
By spraying produce with a fine mist of cold water, the retailer hopes to keep its fruit and vegetable range looking fresher and able to keep for longer, as the humid environment prevents them from drying out.
This is not without its risks. With too much water, the products can go mouldy more quickly than they would naturally. In addition, a lack of hygiene in these systems can allow bacteria and viruses to flourish. There have even been cases of the lethal Legionella virus that causes Legionnaire’s disease multiplying within misters.
Suppliers of these systems have learnt from past mistakes, and the equipment used in the Albert Heijn outlet has an automatic cleaning system and an ozone generator that kills airborne bacteria.
The potential benefits include more attractive displays, greater consumer confidence, and reduced costs due to the reduction in waste. In a previous trial, misting was used for three years.These years saw a 25% reduction in waste compared to the previous year when there was no misting. With food waste by the supermarkets a big issue in the news and among politicians, this reduction in itself is probably sufficient to warrant the installation of such systems.
There are also bigger benefits. Reduced waste means the retailer has to buy in less in the first place, cutting down on food miles and CO2 emissions, improving global food security, and potentially making a difference to hunger in the producing countries.
Some retailers in France and Germany are currently using such systems successfully, while the use of misting is also widespread in US stores.
However, Albert Heijn should heed the cautionary tale of the installation of a misting system at UK retailer Morrisons. Three years after installing costly humidifying systems in 300 of its outlets, in 2015 the company scrapped the project, as it did not appear to appeal to its customers, who were seemingly unimpressed at the high-tech industrialised image for products, which are perceived as the epitome of 'fresh' and 'natural'.