Packaging is often seen as one of the more boring necessities of life. Andrew Manly, communications director for AIPIA (the Active and Intelligent Packaging Industry Association) argues that new smart packaging and active products are set to change the face of packaging and the way it is regarded. These packages reduce food waste and interact with customers.
For the meat, bakery and dairy sectors, the ability to go beyond ‘best before’ and ‘sell by’ labels has arrived. Active packaging solutions greatly extend shelf life of perishable products by reducing the oxygen or ethylene level for example. Intelligent packages contain a sensor that can tell you exactly how fresh, or suitable for consumption a product is, for example Time Temperature Indicators (TTI). TTIs track the temperature during the processing and transport of food, and can tell the retailer if the product has been kept in good condition, which is currently a guessing game. These types of sensors can also help the consumer to have confidence that the product is still edible and safe. How can you benefit from these innovations in packaging?
Food producers, both large and small, are always reluctant to add production or packaging costs. However, there is independent evidence from banks, investor organisations and venture capitalists that food producers are missing out on better profits. Indeed the Dutch Rabobank has roundly criticised the industry for being slow to adopt active and intelligent packaging technologies. Active and intelligent packaging will clearly be a cost benefit as it saves food and thus money, reduces waste and sells at better margins. The unit price of sensors such as TTIs will drop dramatically once more sensors are adopted. Additionally, these sensors will replace ‘best before’ and ‘sell by’ labels. So take those associated costs off – and what are you waiting for?
The ability to keep a product available for even one extra day on the shelf can have massive implications for the retailer, who currently throws out tonnes of food every year. Active packs with anti-microbial or slow ripening properties can add days to the useful life of a range of fresh products and, at the same time, maintain texture, colour and taste. For example, when Marks & Spencer introduced an active mat into packs of fresh berries and fruits, it saved them from throwing away 800,000 strawberries. The mat slowed down the rate of ethylene gas that was generated by ripening.
Many supermarkets and consumers throw away perfectly edible food because it has passed its ‘sell by’ or ‘use by’ date on the label. Today, for almost the same price, a condition monitoring label can be used which tells you when the food inside the pack is really spoiled. Recently, a clever condition monitor using gelatine mimics the decay process of food. Simply run your finger over the ‘Bump Mark’ label and if it’s smooth, the food is still good. If it’s bumpy then the consumer needs to be cautious.
Secure and safe transport
Insecurity in the supply chain is also a major source of waste. New technologies such as Time Temperature Indicators and Radio Frequency Identification Tags (RFID) can help manufacturers, logistics companies and retailers track the condition and location of goods anywhere along its route. One company offers a system that can be accessed by your smartphone. Infratab’s ‘Freshtime’ provides a roadmap for perishable products with ‘landmarks’ all along the route to check it has stayed on track!
Labels can confirm authenticity
Intelligent packaging can sometimes use the same technologies, for example RFID tags, to signal if a product has been tampered with or to confirm it is not a fake. Today, thanks to new printing technologies called ‘Printed Electronics’, these tags can be fixed on products like labels. They are much stronger and cheaper than the original tags or sensors seen in shops.ors can tell you
Combating risks to your Brand and your Consumer
Furthermore, counterfeiting is a big problem in some markets. There is a real danger of a big brand being damaged if a consumer is injured by fake liquor in an original bottle. Recently, a product from Thin Film Electronics in partnership with global drinks company Diageo enabled a fully printed sensor known as ‘OpenSense’ to authenticate the contents of Johnnie Walker Blue Label Whisky bottles. The tag also gives information to consumers by simply tapping a smartphone on the sensor and receiving cocktail recipes, compatible foods, special offers and other marketing messages.
Packaging as a marketing tool
Marketing is a key element in changing people’s perception of packaging. “At AIPIA we believe the next generations will see packaging as useful, informative and even fun!” Active and intelligent packaging is set to give this underrated product a whole new role in society and a user-friendly face! If a package tells if is it really whisky and not brown water and offers a lot of other useful information, so the purchasers are likely to feel more confident and positive about the brand.
The Active and Intelligent Packaging Industry Association (AIPIA) is a worldwide association, with almost 700 members, promoting high tech packaging solutions for the food, beverage, pharmaceutical and other sectors. Its mission is to decimate supply chain costs, reduce waste and increase profitability by the implementation of high tech solutions in packaging. AIPIA is the only organisation offering advice and contacts about all forms of active and intelligent packaging and they offer guidance to companies big and small on their own projects. More information on AIPIA, its congress, other activities and members can be found at www.aipia.info.
This article was written by Andrew Manly from AIPIA and originally published on Taste of Science.