Connect with the future | Category Focus – intelligent and active packs

Intelligent, connected packaging can prove beneficial to consumers, brands and the supply chain in more ways than perhaps many envisaged. Tony Corbin taps into the technology Zeitgeist

The idea of smart or connected packaging might have previously been considered frivolous or superfluous by some. Some of the mobile-enabled packs showcased in recent years might have given some the impression that they were gimmicks that added little value. Smarter onlookers have predicted more potential. From allowing brands to focus on campaigns to enabling pharma pack track and trace and giving helpful information about food, smart packaging is slowly but surely playing an increasing part in pack innovation.

Focused on the latter, Gillian Ewers, vice president of marketing at PragmatIC, believes intelligent packaging can help to combat both food and packaging waste problems.

“One major cause of food waste in the developed world is consumer confusion about the labelling of food,” says Ewers. “The UK waste and recycling advisory body Wrap revealed that in 2015 an estimated 7.3 million tonnes of household food was thrown away, of which 4.4m tonnes was deemed to be edible.

“RFID/NFC in intelligent packaging offers a great solution to help tackle the household waste issue. A low-cost inlay embedded into food packaging can be used not only for coupons, loyalty programmes and recipes, as is usually promoted; it can also be used to give consumers information about food storage, cooking and safety. Also, as each item can be uniquely identified, the consumer can be given location specific information about recycling both food and packaging waste, improving the chances of recovery rather than landfill. All with a single, simple tap of their NFC enabled smartphone.”

Increased intelligence

The range of smartphones that enable quick and easy use of this technology is increasing too following Apple’s announcement that the new iPhone XS, XS Mac and XR models have the ability to read NFC tags without an app.

The news represents a giant leap forward in driving adoption of NFC beyond payment. Davor Sutija, chief executive at Norwegian printed electronics company Thinfilm, says about the development: “While the new models maintain the freedom to read NFC tags via native apps whenever desired, they – importantly – can also launch URLs (and several other data formats) directly from NFC tags – even from the phone’s home screen or lock screen.

“This means that brands, retailers, and industrial users can now take advantage of a simplified user experience across all major mobile operating systems, making NFC-enabled experiences more compelling and consistent than ever. With a single touch of an NFC smartphone, a consumer can research a brand, read the latest product reviews, post to social media, or even place an e-commerce reorder when a product is depleted.”

The message that smart packaging could appeal to both the tech-happy and the environmentally conscious consumer is an important one. While millennials and Generation Z are tech savvy and probably more likely to embrace new technology in packaging, they are also receiving negative media messages about packaging in relation to waste.

“Avery Dennison, the leading RFID inlay manufacturer, has been running trials and have reported that they have seen up to 20% reduction in food waste at a UK retailer using RFID,” continues PragmatIC’s Ewers. “If this improvement could be achieved across meat, fish and dairy in just Europe and North America, it could save 60 kilo tonnes of plastic (because that food is generally wrapped in plastic) and over 6 million tonnes of food per year, equivalent to the total food supply a year in Finland.”

Specifiers could be forgiven for believing that adding electronics to packs could result in a recycling nightmare.

“[A] reason sometimes given for not using RFID are claims that adding this technology to potentially trillions of items will make packaging harder to recycle and will add additional carbon footprint to the packaging,” says Ewers. “The reality is that they add a minute amount, for example for a 500ml PET bottle, a FlexIC inlay would add less than 1% to the packaging carbon footprint (and even less to the packaging plus contents). In the future we expect the functionality to be added directly to the back of the label, which will reduce the additional carbon footprint to around 0.1%. All of which is dwarfed by the 38 million tonnes reduction CO2e by decreasing food waste and packaging waste associated with that food in Europe and North America.”

While the packaging industry often bears the brunt of the criticism on the waste issue, some have not been afraid to point to the responsibility of the consumer. However, it is not always clear how or where to recycle, especially with foodservice packaging. Smart packaging can help consumers access that information.

Cup manufacturer Huhtamaki has launched an initiative aiming to increase cup recycling in the UK. Consumers will also notice on its range of specialty cups (single wall hot cups and paper vending cups), to ‘please recycle this cup’ and a QR code that can be scanned by a mobile phone which will lead the consumer to a web page which contains details of the growing numbers of cup recycling sites and schemes across the UK.

“We wanted to refresh our single wall and paper vending cup offering and introduce a more modern colour palette for consumers,” says Becci Eplett, marketing manager for Huhtamaki UK. “The cup aesthetic is a really important contributor to the overall drinking experience but we also wanted to do more to help to communicate the recycling message. All of the cups manufactured by Huhtamaki in the UK are either recyclable or certified as compostable in approved composting facilities. Our specialty cups are made in the UK from 100% PEFC certified paper board and are recyclable via a fast growing and accessible recycling infrastructure – but how do we direct consumers to their nearest cup recycling point to enable them to recycle their used paper cup? We add a QR code to the cup which links to a new page on our website that lists recycling schemes in the UK.”

Any contribution towards waste reduction is obviously welcome but, given the vast projected reach of the Internet of Things (IoT), or the Internet of Packaging, most will consider smart packaging either to seek direct consumer communication or supply chain tracking.

“By embracing the internet of things, retailers and brands can connect with communities on a one-to-one level, provide customers with complete transparency and deliver enhanced shopping experiences whenever and wherever they decide to engage with them,” says Francisco Melo, vice president and general manager, global RFID, at Avery Dennison.

“Avery Dennison is focused on the internet of things by providing seamless and functional connections to products through innovative packaging solutions. We will continue to pioneer innovative change in this space and invest in technologies that create seamless and personalised retail experiences.”

Likewise Kezzler, whose codes link brand owners with their products, all the way from the point of manufacture right through to the end consumer, eyes the mind-boggling huge potential for connectivity. In October last year Kezzler announced a partnership with Scanbuy that will enhance SmartLabel implementations using a single QR code for both consumer engagement and logistical support.

“Every second someone engages with a Kezzler code. By doing so they access an interactive highway of information connecting stakeholders across the value chain, from brands and consumers, to manufacturers and regulators,” says Kezzler’s Frederic Clulow, sales director for North and Latin America. “The Internet of Things is projected to reach 50 billion connected devices in 2021, but with the Internet of Packaging we are talking about the potential for 3.5billion packages annually.”

Augmented Reality

For an increasing number of food and drinks brands augmented reality (AR) is currently one of the most exciting technologies in the smart packaging space. Last October EVRYTHNG, the Internet of Things Smart Products Platform, and Zappar, a global player in AR, announced a partnership which empowers brands to drive consumer interactions with AR experiences at massive scale through Zappar’s class-leading AR content authoring and publishing platform. EVRYTHNG believes the AR experience delivers value for the consumer, all while delivering return on investment for brands. Product packaging for food brands can surface relevant recipes, food preparation tips, nutritional information, coupons, and related brand promotions and offers. These interactions are captured and tracked by brands in the EVRYTHNG platform to better understand usage habits among audiences for future product and marketing decisions.

“Our partnership with Zappar is yet another way we’re bridging the gap between the physical and digital for brands and consumers,” said Niall Murphy, co-founder and chief executive, EVRYTHNG. “This addition of augmented reality to our portfolio of rich digital applications powered by smart products allows brands to deliver interactive experiences that drive consumer engagement, insights, and business impact.”

Delivering a satisfying consumer experience is invariably the ultimate goal as Avery Dennison’s Melo concludes.

“In this ruthlessly competitive retail landscape, consumer engagement is more important than ever. Connected products and frictionless commerce allow customers and retailers to engage in ways that are meaningful to the shopping experience, such as speed or discovery. With transformational technologies, consumers don’t have to find a store associate to receive basic information or wait in line to check out.

“Experiences can be fast and efficient or personalised and accompanied, depending on what the consumer wants. Ultimately, time is spent in valuable engagement versus process friction. The business value is exponential: customers can choose where, how and when to shop and engage, and brands and retailers can maximise their workforce and capture new, informative datasets that continue to improve the personalisation offered to each customer.”



The present RFID/NFC solutions simply cost too much for everyday consumer goods. The silicon integrated circuits (ICs), the heart of the solution, have stopped getting cheaper in cost. PragmatIC says it is re-inventing how ICs are made with a focus on cost.


Many still need to be convinced that RFID packaging would not present recycling obstacles even with smart food packaging where pack waste is largely offset by saving food waste.

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