Going Active And Intelligent With Packaging

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

With significant developments in the A&IP sector, food and beverage brand owners must embrace A&IP and apply it to their businesses. By Andrew Manly, communications director, Active & Intelligent Packaging Industry Association (AIPIA)

What are some trends that you’re seeing with active and intelligent packaging (A&IP)?


This year has seen some significant developments in the A&IP sector as more brand owners have realised the potential for security and consumer engagement by using smart packaging technologies. Some very high profile roll outs have occurred in the past 12 months in both of these arenas.

Top of the agenda is a search for real consumer ‘value’ from the application of A&IP, as well as the need to ensure the additional cost of adopting these technologies is reflected in that value. There has also been a realisation among potential end users that combining more than one A&IP component may be required to offer the solutions they seek, so they are encouraging collaboration between developers.

As such, current drivers within the industry are to bring down unit production costs and ensure common standards (such as GS1) are met, as well as working in partnership with other A&IP companies, or packaging converters, to offer a fully marketable solution.

For example, UK retailer Sainsbury’s has rolled out Insignia Technologies’ condition and temperature monitoring labels on unitised packs of fresh meat. The labelling technology is based on smart pigments which change colour when exposed to various gases (e.g. carbon dioxide). By extruding the pigments into polymer films the company has created a range of intelligent plastics.

Without any change to the existing packaging or barcode, SmarterBarcodes can transform a standard barcode on any product or packaging format into a two-way interactive communications channel. This allows consumers to interact with a brand and product by simply scanning the standard barcode on the product with any mobile device that has a camera.

This technology optimises the use of existing space and requires no artwork or pack changes. It can also immediately make packaging interactive and support provenance and anti-counterfeit requirements.

What technologies do you see having a big impact in the next year?


Perhaps the most important 2017 event which will impact 2018 is the announcement by Apple that future iPhones will be NFC enabled. The iOS 11 system has features allowing the iPhone to read any NFC tag. The immediate reaction from many quarters of the tag world was a very positive and enthusiastic. This one action extends the potential users of smart packaging devices by hundreds of millions.

On the other side of A&IP, there are few areas attracting more attention than the technologies to offer longer shelf-life and, in so doing, reduce food waste. This is not just a business issue, but one of international importance to Governments and the United Nations as well as the global population who want better and safer foods.

From a commercial point of view, increasing the shelf-life of perishable food is one of the main requirements to get to far away markets, keep the fresh appearance of food in the sales display, guarantee food safety for longer, increase rotation times in supermarkets, and reduce food waste to increase profitability.

Strategies to increase shelf-life using plastic packaging can be addressed through the design of both multilayer structures with specific high barrier properties and smart packaging. Both strategies can also be combined to obtain a synergistic effect in food protection and shelf-life extension.

One particular area attracting a lot of attention and considerable EU project funding is nanotechnology. AIPIA is a project partner with one of these, NanoPack, whose partners will develop antimicrobial packaging solutions for perishable foods based on natural nanomaterials that will prevent food-borne illness outbreaks and reduce food waste caused by early spoilage.

Two other technologies with the potential to have an immediate impact on packaging’s disruptive value are Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), which can make ‘on pack’ codes more engaging. For example, record label Island Records partnered with Crown Bevcan Europe and Middle East to launch the world’s first “Shazamable” can for its Session IPA Beer. 

How important do you think it is for manufacturers to follow accommodate these trends?


In the past, manufacturers could be forgiven for thinking cost and complexity made A&IP suitable only for campaigns or promotions. Now, there are no reasons not to take A&IP seriously. Indeed there are many reasons to rush to embrace the benefits as soon as possible.

For some members of the drugs industry, the consequences of ignoring serialisation and traceability issues are now staring them in the face, as both the US Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) coming into force, and a similar deadline approaching in the EU in February 2019. These companies risk major disruption if they do not get their systems in place and validated in the coming months.

For the global food sector, the issues of food fraud, safety, security and waste are now firmly in the spotlight of legislators and NGOs tasked with implementing better rules. The clear benefits offered by A&IP in some of these areas of controllable events are too important to ignore. The food sector will do so at its peril. Of course, these issues do not take account of the enormous marketing potential offered by these technologies.

What are some simple tips manufacturers can follow to be line with these trends?


Collaboration begins with the brand owners. One of the interesting comments from one of the world’s leading drinks suppliers was that the ‘silo mentality’ of large corporate structures can hinder NPD and adoption of new technologies.

But when communication is improved, then a more holistic approach can be formed. For example, to describe how A&IP components can create a new customer experience, feedback valuable consumer data, and at the same time offer security and authentication, without disrupting the brand story or on pack landscape significantly.

Challenge yourselves to take a fresh look at what you mean by ‘value’ as this is changing rapidly in a world where Amazon, Alibaba and eBay are changing the retail landscape, even for fresh foods.

Be more open to what new technologies can offer. Cost is not always ‘value’ which is why some of the major retailers are now talking less about the ‘c’ word and more about the ‘v’ word. Also the A&IP sector has been addressing the cost issue for several years, and there are already many examples of A&IP features and components which can be incorporated into existing packaging without any changes to production and at fractions of cents in any currency.

The first five years of A&IP development have been exhilarating and exciting and, importantly, grounded on finding practical solutions to real issues, as well as adding new dimensions to packaging as a marketing tool and information provider. At the end of 2017, all the signs (and considerable investment) point to these technologies going much further and much faster.