Moving Asia’s F&B Industry to a Sustainable Future

Thursday, July 11th, 2024

In an exclusive interview with APFI, Tan May Lin, Regional Director of Printer and Visual Products and Regional Director of Brand and Communications, Epson Southeast Asia, discusses Epson’s contribution towards sustainable practices in Asia.

Q. How does Epson’s technologies contribute to sustainable practices within the F&B industry, particularly in reducing waste and energy consumption?

Tan May Lin (TML): Epson recognises that sustainability is a foundational element of responsible business practices. Our philosophy of ‘sho-sho-sei’ or developing efficient, compact and precise technologies has been built into every Epson product.

Printing plays a much more extensive and crucial role in the F&B industry than most people think. From food manufacturing and packaging, to order preparation and fulfilment, print is pervasive in the form of labels, order slips and receipts.

As such, features such as the top margin and character height reduction function have been introduced into our POS printers to enable up to 49 percent paper savings [Backward paper feeding is applied together. Tested with the pattern defined by Seiko Epson / Actual reduction ratio depends on printing patterns. Applicable for alphanumeric text printing only.].

The F&B industry is also increasingly using projectors for digital signages or to create a more memorable and unique experience for their customers. Epson projectors use long-life blue lasers as a light source which means there is no need to replace light sources, and fewer consumables are wasted. Users save time, eliminate maintenance, and save storage space.

This combination results in an energy-efficient projector that can save up to 50 percent of power consumption as compared to other projectors. Epson projectors are also assembled using 100 percent renewable electricity at all Epson sites [Excludes some sales sites and leased properties where the amount of electricity consumed cannot be determined].

Q. In what ways does Epson Southeast Asia envision its role in transforming the F&B industry towards a more eco-friendly model?

TML: As a responsible corporate citizen, it is imperative for Epson to embrace sustainable technologies and lead by example. Epson does so by introducing eco-conscious products that best respond to customers’ needs as the old ways of doing business mature and become superseded by newer ways.

According to 2021 research by Smithers, sustainability is the least considered criteria when deciding how to print labels compared to factors such as cost, speed, reliability and quality as labelling was regarded as a minor part of the entire package.

Yet, there is a growing body of research that suggests sustainability impact of label printing to be significant in three key areas: energy-efficiency, waste reduction and consumables reduction.

For instance, stock obsolescence is a major driver of wasted labels due to product changes, inventory management issues, regulatory requirements or simply, print errors.

Switching to on-demand label printing eliminates this issue as labels can be printed as they are needed, and end-users can respond to changes in product, market and regulatory requirements instantaneously. This would save the end-users money while eliminating labels from entering the waste stream.

Hence, Epson launched new and improved on-demand colour label printers such as those in our ColorWorks series. The ColorWorks C4050 is one such model that is designed to meet high-mix, low-volume applications to print multiple label variations on-demand, with high efficiency and reduced costs.

It serves as a sustainable alternative to the traditional mode of printing labels. It is also cost-effective with its paper-saving and ink-saving functionality and does not compromise on productivity.

It is with such innovations being made available in the market, that we are able to educate the F&B industry that sustainable technology is built for the better – not just for the environment, but for the business as well.

Q. How does Epson’s commitment to sustainability align with the F&B industry’s need to reduce its carbon footprint, and what measures are being taken to achieve this?

TML: Epson has committed to becoming carbon negative and eliminating the use of non-renewable underground resources in its Environmental Vision 2050. To this end, the company is undertaking a series of initiatives, including transitioning to 100 percent renewable electricity at all Group sites worldwide since the end of 2023, making Epson the first in the Japanese manufacturing industry to fully transition to do so.

Epson is also planning the construction of the company’s first biomass power plant in Iida City, in Nagano Prefecture, Japan. This new power plant is intended to be fueled primarily with unused wood, as well as materials such as tree bark, mushroom culture medium, and waste wooden pallets to provide Epson with self-generated renewable electricity on a continuous basis.

We firmly believe that sustainable technologies are at the forefront of this global transition, and we will continue to drive the development of innovative and sustainable solutions in printing, projection and manufacturing.

Q. From Epson’s perspective, what are the key sustainable practices that the F&B industry should adopt to ensure a minimal ecological footprint?

TML: The F&B industry faces the unique challenge of tackling waste. This is not just about food waste, but all forms of resource wastage that occurs in the day-to-day operations such as discarded packaging materials and inefficient energy and water usage.

Sustainability must start from the basics such as reducing electricity usage. When we incorporate energy-efficient practices throughout our processes, we can make a tangible industry impact.

According to research, the food industry is responsible for about 30 percent of global energy consumption and accounts for 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing power consumption will also go a long way in helping the F&B industry save on costs as well. This transition is also championed by governments.

In Singapore, the recent Budget 2024 announced an enhanced Energy Efficiency Grant, to help businesses within the food services and food manufacturing sectors cope with rising energy costs, through co-funding investments in more energy efficient equipment.

Q. How does Epson’s approach to sustainability drive transformation in the F&B industry, and what are the long-term benefits of this transformation?

TML: From Epson’s point-of-view, technological innovation allows us to make an economic case for climate-friendly action. We understand the need for companies to manage this ‘double bottom-line’ but our emphasis is that the two do not have to be incompatible and that plays a big part in our communications.

For example, quick-service restaurants (QSRs) known for their fast-paced environment where speed and efficiency are critical, are also looking at ways to reduce their environmental impact. Labels are used extensively at QSRs for order taking, order fulfilment and order delivery. Further, the backing liner of adhesive labels is expensive and difficult to recycle.

Epson developed a proven system using the EPSON-L90LFC printer with StickyPOS® Linerless Labels to meet the demands of QSRs while saving on operations and environmental costs. Linerless labels streamlines the workflow by eliminating the step of removing the backing paper which saves time and reduces waste.

Sustainability is at the core of our business roadmap. In choosing a technology partner with a strong environmental track record and a mandate on sustainability, the investments of the F&B industry will contribute indirectly to environmental sustainability on a global scale.

Q. Can you share examples of how collaboration between technology providers like Epson and F&B businesses has led to successful implementation of sustainable practices?

TML: Restaurants with overseas outlets face limitations in operations as their POS printers cannot print in multiple languages. For instance, a restaurant in Japan is planning to expand to different Southeast Asia countries but their receipts are printed only in Japanese.

The restaurant owner wants to reduce order fulfilment errors by printing two or more languages in one receipt. However, typical POS printers can only support one native language at a time and reconfiguring their POS printers to print more than one language can be challenging. Further, different POS printer models are needed to support different languages.

With this pain point in mind, Epson introduced Unicode font support in their latest line of POS printers including the latest Epson TM-m30III. Restaurants are able to print any language in one receipt without any complicated modifications and they can deploy the same printer setting to all outlets easily.

Not only does it save time and resources in terms of paper usage, but the language support will also reduce order fulfilment errors and avoid potential food wastage.

Q. Looking ahead, what emerging technologies or innovations from Epson can the F&B industry anticipate that will further aid in their sustainability efforts?

TML: Food manufacturers face chronic labour shortages and are keen to augment their workforce with mechanisation. The Japanese government and the Japan Readymade Meal Association joined forces to drive the mechanisation of ready-made meal manufacturing as a national project.

Last year, Epson participated in this project, working with the association to create a practical robot for use in the manufacture of meals. The picking and placing of food items in containers and bento boxes is one of the most labour intensive processes in food manufacturing.

Epson’s T3-B SCARA robot was selected for these systems, reducing costs by 30 percent and system footprint by 70 percent. Also, the T3 is 30 percent more energy-efficient than conventional SCARA robots. It runs at 100 V, meaning it can be used in facilities where a large power supply is not available.

Further, improvements to their control enabled the robots to be used in a wider range of processes, including the packing of food items, high-speed packing of bento boxes, placing lids on containers and transporting product trays.

Epson will be looking to expand the installation of these robot systems at more food manufacturers, to herald a smart food industry that contributes to both business and environmental sustainability.