What would you say have been the key trends and developments in the global Active and Intelligent Packaging (A&IP) industry in 2015 and why?
Eef de Ferrante: This year we have seen a number of projects achieving commercial roll out, most notably in the printed electronics and RFID tagging sectors. For example much excitement was generated by Thinfilm Electronics OpenSense PE tag for wines and spirits and cosmetics products. These tags act as an anti-counterfeit measure, supply chain tracker and can interact with consumers.
Likewise Avery Dennison has been very active in the smart labeling area, such as its DirectLink near field communication (NFC) technology which is now being incorporated into a new line of cosmetics from Mineral Fusion to provide product information to consumers.
Several major clothing retailers, such as Zara and Marco Polo, as well as retail chains such as Macys and Target in the USA are committed to manage inventory on an item-level basis at their stores with RFID. UK Retailer Marks & Spencer is even more ambitious with a project to have 100% of its general merchandise tagged by 2017.
What do you see is driving this increased activity and interest in A&IP?
EF: I think major Brand Owners are seeing the value of using the pack to make direct contact with the consumer. They are asking the question ‘How do we differentiate our product from the competition?’ At the same time they can learn a lot about consumer habits and what makes them want to buy a particular product.
It can also make a real difference to the way a product is marketed. One recent example from Belgian Brewer Martens featured a well-known group of TV actors from Flemish sitcom F.C. Kampioenen on its new Dagschotel beer. The bottles labels have the show’s characters printed digitally and include a specially designed smartphone app so that the characters come to life when a smart device is aimed at the graphics. When two bottles are brought together the characters talk to each other.
There are, of course, more serious reasons for using A&IP. But our conversations with brand owners and retailers seem to be about consumer engagement more than anything else.
What are the more serious issues you mention?
EF: Well the major issues of reducing food waste, product authentication (anti-counterfeiting) and inventory control and management are still very important aspects of active and intelligent packaging development. These are still at the heart of why A&IP is so important.
The point is, as l mentioned earlier, that you can use A&IP products to do more than one thing. Or you can use a combination of these technologies to achieve the effect. So, the OpenSense tag l talked about also uses a secure cloud database, the Internet of Things Smart Products platform from another AIPIA member, EVRYTHNG which tracks product lineage and provides supply-chain analytics.
Different sectors have different priorities. Some of that is being driven by legislation. For example pharmaceutical companies have to meet global traceability and serialization regulations very soon and we are being told some countries and companies are simply not ready. Also the USA’s Food Safety Modernization Act comes into effect shortly and that will change the face of supply chain logistics there and will probably lead to tighter regulations in Europe.
Another concern for the pharma sector is the amount of wasted drugs. So we can see A&IP products with patient compliance and extended shelf-life features winning more business.
You have talked a lot about the ups. Are there any downs?
EF: We would like to see more activity in the food sector for the use of condition monitoring, time and temperature tracking and generally measures to extend shelf life. The food sector is always quite slow to adopt new technologies and, of course, they do not want to increase costs at a time of worldwide deflation in food prices and cost cutting at retailers. A good example of that is the recent collapse in the price of milk.
But serious industry analysts, such as Rabobank, have roundly criticized the sector for not adopting new technologies more quickly. And we see clear evidence that adopting A&IP technologies not only helps to improve margins and reduce costs, but it has the effect of reducing food waste – which is a clear priority for environmental and political reasons, as well as economic.
In a nutshell the ‘Best Before’ and ‘Sell By’ labels are no longer fit for purpose and there are plenty of cost effective A&IP solutions ready to replace them and restore consumer confidence in food safety and security.
Finally. What do you see happening beyond 2015?
EF: When AIPIA was founded in 2012 we predicted a two to five year timescale for the adoption of many A&IP technologies. We are just over half way through and see clear signs that the timescale is still on track. Some technologies are moving faster than others, but it’s all forward and not backward.
Our confidence in this prediction is strengthened by the amount of investment in A&IP companies. For example earlier in 2015 UK technology company ARM and Cambridge Innovation Capital invested £5.4 million in our member PragmatIC Printing, which develops flexible electronics. And this is only one of several investments in the sector. In our opinion Smart Money follows Smart Businesses.
The sector also has important champions, such as Heineken. They have used several A&IP products during the year to market their iconic beer – from groovy cans, through freezable bottles with a glowing red star, to GPS enabled bottles. They have really caught on to the potential of active and intelligent packaging. And where Heineken lead others are sure to follow.
The AIPIA Annual Congress takes place on November 18-19 in Utrecht.