January 3, 2017
Last year’s Active and Intelligent Packaging Industry World Congress marked a breakthrough for at lot of new technology. Joanne Hunter was at the 2016 event to discover what we should look out for in 2017.
International names in retailing joined more than 300 attendees at the recent Active and Intelligent Packaging Industry (AIPI) World Congress, enough for 2016 to be marked a ‘breakthrough’ year for technologies putting new powers into the hands of brand owners, altering their perceptions of what packaging is and will become – an industry of tools for communication, quality control and shelf life extension.
Knowing the consumer
Knowledge is power, and smart packaging and smartphone together give brand owners a direct line to understanding what the consumer wants and how they behave. General Mills brands have participated in a pilot QR digital labelling programme sponsored by the US grocery industry, and Kraft Heinz is exploring ‘frictionless’ tools to give mobile shoppers easier access to in-store promotions and improve customer insight data.
But the connected package and frictionless interaction comes at a high cost and, depending on the underlying job to be done, smart thinking might do the trick.
“Smart packaging can be zero-tech,” says Tom Lawrie-Fussey, Congress keynote speaker and leader of business development at Cambridge Design Partnership (CDP). For example, printing a picture of a flatscreen TV on a bicycle box saved a savvy Dutch company losses through damage in distribution of 70 to 80%. The boxes are similar in size and, as VanMoof predicted, shippers handle a TV with more care.
CDP deploys sensors to support the early-stage design phase in evidence based trials. Several connected electronic platforms embedded or attached to packaging reveal how a user actually handles a product, in real time; for example, how a shampoo bottle is squeezed, tipped, shaken and stored and if the lid can be hard to open. Data analytics can be fed into a product redesign.
Hidden technology in a multi-component Gatorade Gx hydration system aims to improve athletic performance. A smart cap fitted with sensors and microchip tracks fluid intake, lights up when someone needs to drink more and sends live analytics to the coach via an App. Each 30-ounce bottle has a pod of concentrated formula based on an individual’s needs, and a device to break and disperse the contents. First piloted with the Brazilian World Cup football team in 2014, it is now used by professional basketball and football teams across America.
“2017 will see this expand to more teams and sports globally across Europe and Australia,” says Kim Anderson, marketing director at Smart Design, lead innovation agency on the project, confirming a plan to launch a version of the smart bottle to consumers in 2017.
Heineken shopped for its next smart beer bottle at the AIPIA Congress, where nine companies contested in a pitch battle to develop their concept. Nanomarker, part of Potsdam Speciality Paper proposed forensic-level authentication technology for a game called Find our Founder which involves integrating a 1,200-micron portrait of Gerard Adriaan Heineken on the bottle label.
“The brand is one of the least innovative in the world, instead creative with everything else around it,” says director of global Heineken design Mark van Iterson. A returnable bottle in the French market has a unique code so a user can read stories of previous people who have been drinking from it. He thinks this collecting of experiences and relabelling the bottles as ‘reforwardable’ “makes returnable bottles cool again”.
Italian olive oil producers in Tuscany are piloting OpenSense near-field communication (NFC) wireless tagging by Thinfilm Electronics, to stem the flow of fake products. Temperature sensing labels to launch in 2017 will target the pharma, fresh meat and fish, dairy and wine sectors said Erwan Le Roy, ThinFilm executive vice president, NFC business development: “An assurance of quality for consumers that retailers can monitor and verify at the point of receiving whether the products were in the right temperature range during the total supply chain.” A new roll-to-roll manufacturing line will increase capacity to five billion smart tags per year.
A temperature sensing, UHF passive RFID tag combined with a chemical reaction allows a reading after an event to provide both identification data and temperature history, a capability unique to TEMPiDENCE technology claims the Japanese developer, NiGK Corporation . A tag on the market works between 30-60° C and suitable for pharma, chocolates, wine and paint. An NFC version and tags with other temperature settings are on the way.
Maintaining healthy hydration levels is the idea behind the Water Reminder smart cap by Israeli company Water.io that sends alerts when it’s time to drink by blinking, vibrating, or sounding an alarm. The first commercialised products in 2017 will be for bottled water and energy and sports drinks.
An elapsed time indicator label, from UWI Technology, shows when consumables are at their best, graduating from green to red. It can be calibrated to requirements, and tuned to minutes or hours, days, weeks or even months, explains Pete Higgins, founder and chief executive of UWI. The countdown starts automatically when the product is opened and cannot be stopped.
The rise of the ‘connected package’ is reinventing retailing, changing packaging from within, making software developers key from the start of the design process. It’s early days and the smart pioneer will move into new territory with care. “We’re at the crossroads,” says Lawrie-Fussey. “Someone will go genuinely hi-tech. I hope they will know what the gains are and find the most pessimistic person to convince. Planning for the next five to 10 years of advancement is a massive organisational decision and investment.”