Heriot-Watt partnership wins prize for smart label

Pete Higgins with the UWI (Use Within) Label

Pete Higgins, founder and CEO of UWI Technology, a collaboration with Heriot-Watt, has won the Barclays 2011 'Take One Small Step' business competition. He scooped £50,000 to support the ongoing development and expansion of the innovative idea - the UWI Label (pronounced 'yoo-wee').

Unique labelling system

Pete sought out the help of an established academic at Heriot-Watt University, Dr Will Shu, to collaborate on the scientific development and overall design of the UWI (Use Within) Label, with the ultimate goal of it becoming a standard feature on every food jar throughout the world.

Over £11bn of food is wasted every year in the UK alone, the equivalent of £680 per family, much of which is food thrown out whilst still edible and safe to consume. The unique labelling system could have a significant impact on both the amount of food being unnecessarily discarded and in saving people money on their shopping by no longer needing to replace products as often.

Invaluable support

The support I received from Dr Shu and the rest of the team at Heriot-Watt was invaluable to the device evolving from an idea to becoming a reality

Pete Higgins, CEO of UWI Technology

Pete said of his success: "I am thrilled to have won this competition. My idea was simple, but the opportunities for its use are far reaching and the support I received from Dr Shu and the rest of the team at Heriot-Watt was invaluable to the device evolving from an idea to becoming a reality.

"My initial aim was to help to reduce the amount of food wasted each year, save people money and minimise the risk of illness, but I am now keen to investigate how it can be used for other products such as blood transfusion bags, veterinary and pharmaceutical products, industrial glues and sealants and even cosmetics - in fact, anything with a critical shelf life once it has been opened."

Dr Will Shu, an academic and lecturer at the School of Engineering & Physical Sciences at Heriot-Watt University, said of his involvement: "It has taken Pete over three years to develop this product and we have been working with him for the last 18 months to bring it to its final stage. The results have exceeded our expectations.

"I am delighted to have been involved in what has been a highly exciting journey and look forward to continuing to work with Pete to develop the device further for use in other products and move into other business sectors."

How it works

The label is applied at the point of production so when the consumer picks the jar of food off the shelf in the supermarket, the UWI Label is already there and is only activated when the jar is opened for the first time.

The label then displays how long it has been since the first opening by a series of squares turning green indicating that it is still safe to use. Once it has reached its "use within" period, the final square turns red warning you that it is no longer safe to consume and can now be discarded.

Barclays 'Take One Small Step' business competition

Barclays awarded 9 regional winners £50,000 each within the UK. UWI was the winner in Scotland.