How Active And Intelligent Packaging Addresses Food Supply Shortages

Thursday, August 25th, 2022

Packaging can be a massive roadblock that prevents distribution networks from operating at full capacity. Interestingly, active and intelligent packaging may offer some solutions when it comes to addressing Asia-Pacific food supply shortages. By Sam Bowman, food industry writer.


The world is in the midst of an unprecedented food supply crisis, spawned from the continued COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and rising international turmoil. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, for example, wheat prices skyrocketed as supply quickly dwindled. Countries such as India responded swiftly: Shortly after the invasion began, the world’s second-largest wheat-growing nation (behind only China) banned most wheat exports in an effort to protect India’s food supply. 


India, like much of the world, has also been impacted by climate change in the form of inclement weather events. Record-breaking heat waves, drought conditions, and heavy rains are causing a further ripple effect across the food supply chain, leaving large-scale food shortages in their wake. Whatever your role in the food supply chain, it’s time to take action. 


When it comes to addressing global food supply shortages, distributors are on the front lines, starting with packaging. For many food distributors, packaging can be a massive roadblock that prevents distribution networks from operating at full capacity. Interestingly, technological advancements in packaging may offer some solutions when it comes to addressing Asia-Pacific food supply shortages. 


By utilising active and intelligent packaging (A&IP) for food, we can increase shelf life and lower both distributor costs and packaging waste. Here’s what you need to know about the myriad benefits of A&IP, and how food distributors can implement smart packaging to reduce production costs and address supply shortages. 


Active And Intelligent Packaging In Action

active and intelligent packaging_silica

Silica gel pouches absorb moisture that weeps from food, keeping the packaging environment dry, extending the shelf life of the product as a result.


The food production industry has long been interested in package design and functionality. Oxygen-absorbing sachets, for example, have been used for at least 50 years to help keep food products fresh. Packets containing silica are also common additions in the packaging of household items, shoe boxes, and beyond, which function as odor absorbers. Today, certain types of sachets and silica packets can be integrated directly into packaging, with the dual purpose of prolonging shelf life while also providing valuable data about package performance. 


Consumers may also be familiar with another form of A&IP, commonly used as a protective liner, that works in much the same way as oxygen-absorbing sachets. However, while oxygen-absorbing can-liners do indeed help prolong shelf life, they don’t exactly have a stellar reputation. Introduced in the 1950s, the substance Bisphenol A (BPA) has long been used as a coating on the lining of many types of food service packaging, from soup cans to baby food jars.   


Unfortunately, BPA is also highly toxic, and its use in food packaging has been phased out over time. Numerous countries worldwide have regulations that restrict or prohibit the use of BPA lining in food contact materials (FCMs). Regulations vary considerably among nations. Within the Asia Pacific region, the use of BPA is regulated and/or restricted to some capacity in Australia, China, South Korea, Japan, and Malaysia.


Safe Packaging And Supply Chain Efficiency

Despite hiccups such as BPA lining, consumer safety is of the highest priority within the food service industry. A&IP can help manufacturers and distributors avoid making similar packaging choice mistakes in the future, since the data collected by smart packaging allows for proactive action, rather than after-the-fact. Stopping potential contamination problems before they start is a great way to keep the food supply chain flowing. Distributors can also look to consumers for inspiration and ideas. 

The modern consumers of today have a vested interest in sustainable packaging.

The modern consumers of today have a vested interest in sustainable packaging.


For instance, as the social issue of sustainability has gained traction around the world, so has consumer interest in sustainable packaging. The issue is of particular relevance in Asia, the world’s top packaging growth market. According to a McKinsey & Company report, consumers in India, China, and Indonesia are especially concerned about the impact of packaging production on water and air pollution. 


Global citizens are also increasingly concerned about the issue of waste, and food packaging is one of the world’s largest culprits. In 2016, in an effort to address the growing problem of food waste, the country of Australia implemented its National Food Waste Strategy (NFWS), with food packaging at the center of the discussion. Under the NFWS, food packages should be clearly labeled with date coding and proper storage instructions. Manufacturers can also utilise A&IP in the form of temperature and/or oxygen sensors to detect spoiled foods or unsafe conditions that could foster spoilage.


With that valuable consumer knowledge in hand, distribution companies looking to expand their reach can better manage increasing costs and demand through intelligent packaging. Consumer loyalty can help drive growth, so don’t be afraid to answer the call for packaging that’s sustainable and that supports longer shelf life. Hygienic packaging is also gaining traction in Asian markets, as more consumers are concerned about pandemic-related effects of poor food handling.


Looking To The Future Of Intelligent Packaging

[Caption] Shoppers not only can use QR codes for convenient purchases, they can also find out more about a product that includes an interactive QR code on its packaging.


Although the benefits of A&IP are myriad, the technology and research involved can be costly, so distributors may need to start small. Packaging costs are an important consideration for distribution networks of every size, as they’re a crucial element of the order fulfillment process as a whole. The good news for distributors looking to reduce packaging costs is that technology offers plenty of solutions.


In fact, technological advancements such as smart packaging and integrated software can help you to better understand where you’re succeeding, and where you could do better. Even if your company relies on personal connections rather than e-commerce shipping fulfillment, streamlining the packaging and shipping process keeps your business (and the supply chain as a whole) running smoothly. What’s more, business leaders can share A&IP data with their consumers, investors, and business partners, in an effort to maintain transparency and earn a reputation as an honest company.


Key Takeaways

Asia-Pacific food suppliers are under a lot of pressure these days, spawned by rising demand, supply chain backlogs, and sustainability initiatives. The good news is that the food industry is fueled by innovation, and packaging has an important role to play. From hygienic packaging to fresh produce packages outfitted with temperature sensors, active and intelligent packaging keeps the global food supply flowing. Whether your company goals involve reducing costs, increasing supply, or improving sustainability, A&IP practices can take your business far. 



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