The pandemic has accelerated the digitalisation of many sectors, including packaging, which has focused its interest into technologies that improve security and traceability in supply chains. Here, the connected packaging gains relevance by offering solutions that guarantee the authenticity and information on the journey that each product has made. Similarly, Covid-19 has increased consumers’ concern regarding both general hygiene and food hygiene which provides an opportunity to promote the technologies of active packaging, which prolong the useful life of food products. We talked to the founder and executive director of AIPIA, Eef de Ferrante, about new products and services in the field of Smart Packaging.
How would you define Smart Packaging?
Smart Packaging brings a new dimension to the packaging industry. It has to be revolutionary, or if we want to use a modern term, we are talking about a set of ground-breaking, cutting-edge technologies that change the consumer’s experience when it comes to packaging. In this regard, it may become the most effective marketing tool for a brand, as well as offering new levels of security and bringing other benefits to the product it contains.
What do consumers value most in terms of Smart Packaging?
It depends on the product and the target audience. For example, the so-called Generation Z (born after 1996), and to some extent the Millennial Generation too, like to be entertained by interacting with their mobile phone and the packaging, and to receive benefits beyond the product itself, such as access to a club or a physical space reserved for a select group of people. Previous generations, however, prefer the packaging to provide them with useful information about the origin of the product, and in this regard, the development of Blockchain technology becomes important in generating greater confidence in the entire logistic chain process.
In some markets, where counterfeiting is a major problem, such as luxury goods, cosmetics and premium wines and spirits, authenticity is a key issue and Smart Packaging also has a lot to offer in this respect.
In an environment in which the packaging is providing increasingly greater added value compared to a few years ago and in which various technologies converge, do you think there are noteworthy differences between smart packaging and interactive packaging?
In my opinion, Smart Packaging comes in two forms. One of them is what we know as Active Packaging, which acts on the product. In this regard, Active Packaging helps to extend product shelf life by removing gases from perishable items, inhibiting microbial growth, monitoring the condition of the product in the package and controlling the condition of the product throughout the supply chain, to name just a few examples.
I place the smart package in this second type of Smart Packaging, in other words, that which influences the consumer, informing them, for example, about whether the product is authentic, if it has been manipulated, opened or altered in any way. Similarly, the smart package can also track the product through the supply chain and record whether the product has reached too low or too high a temperature or whether the contents have been damaged in any way. The most important thing with this type of packaging is that the brand is able to strengthen the relationship with the consumer, offering information of interest on nutritional data or allergens, the expiry date, whilst promoting loyalty with promotions or special offers and providing other benefits and elements of interest in the field of augmented reality. In the case of pharmaceutical packaging, it is particularly useful as it can remind the consumer when to take their medication and whether the medication is about to expire or if it needs to be replenished.
Interestingly, more than one of these technologies can often be combined together to achieve multiple levels of benefits.
What do you think digital technology can offer this type of packaging?
Digital printing is a facilitator that plays an important role in this regard. For example, high-definition security barcodes and integrated QR codes are only possible thanks to the advances made in digital printing.
Is Smart Packaging sustainable?
Much work is being done to develop sustainable solutions, from paper-based labels to biodegradable conductive inks for printed electronics applications. In addition, the focus is being placed on the recycling industry to use smart technologies to dye different types of plastics and thus contribute to an increase in recycled material. The AIPIA and its members understand the need to address sustainability issues. However, this must be done in the context of ensuring that reducing food waste is as important or more important than reducing packaging waste and must be taken into account when attempting to change an otherwise previously tested packaging format.
So, how can this help sustainability?
Intelligent packaging solutions are currently being implemented to help combat food waste. Moreover, it can incorporate information for the user on how packaging can be recycled and even provide directions to take it to the nearest recycling centre. I believe that some environmental problems can be solved through advances in technology and their implementation in the packaging industry. In this case, active and intelligent packaging is part of the solution to these problems.
What challenges does Smart Packaging face in the immediate future?
I believe that we are currently in the second phase of the development of Smart Packaging. The question is no longer what Smart Packaging can do, but rather, what can it do for me? Brand owners and retailers are now convinced that there is value in these technologies and that they are an opportunity to add value to their products. The challenge for the industry is to ensure that they can mass produce, whilst provid-ing reliable performance and at a price that makes mass adoption affordable.
Much progress has been made in all these areas, but it is a journey that is not over yet.
What does a trade fair such as Hispack offer to Associations such as yours?
Hispack is the leading packaging event for the Spanish-speaking world and therefore targets highly developed and rapidly developing economies. We hope that the 2022 event meets the expectations of the participants and attracts professional attendees from sectors that use packing and packaging.
AIPIA (Active & Intelligent Packaging Industry Association), based in Utrecht, was founded in 2011 with the ambition of reducing supply chain costs and improving the security of food, beverages and medicines by implementing Smart Packaging technologies. Since then, the association has created an ecosystem of more than 1,500 members from around the world, including retail and logistics companies, brands, R&D organisations and departments, as well as smart packaging manufacturers and suppliers
Cristina Benavides, Hispack contributor