One of the most exciting aspects of printing for packaging, of course, is considering the three-dimensional aspect of the product. Traditionally, packaging serves three key functions: to protect the product, to preserve or extend shelf life, and to communicate information. Graphic elements on a package tend to serve the latter function while also helping to promote the product and stand out on the shelf. However, emerging technologies combined with the growing tech-savvy consumer have created exciting opportunities to take packaging to the next level.
First, let’s start with the consumer. Consumers want cost savings, convenience and performance with no compromises. Furthermore, the millennial consumer segment is rapidly growing in buying power and influence. Millennials are characterized by their need to be globally-connected, social and aspirational. They seek authenticity and information. To fulfill their needs, they want to know where your packaging came from, they want packaging to be available on-the-go, they want to share their experiences and they want to feel good about what they buy. So what are the opportunities for packaging to meet these consumer demands?
Helping consumers understand the source of packaging and its respective product is all about authenticity. The packaging value chain needs to be traceable and transparent. This is especially true for high-end products such as luxury cosmetics and electronics where counterfeiting can be an issue. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and quick response (QR) codes are already in use for this purpose and are scanned for more information. However, there are new smart packaging technologies that may provide more user-friendly options. For example, Nanobrick, a company based in South Korea, has developed an anti-counterfeit label that uses nanoparticle-functional materials that react when exposed to electric or magnetic fields. Uflex uses a non-replicable 3D reflective lens image applied to a seal that is already in the market to protect the Nescafé Classic coffee brand in India.
Convenience is a demand across many consumer segments and is not specific to millennials. Portion-sized packaging allows consumers to take their products on-the-go. The growth of e-commerce is also attributed to the demand for convenience. Packaging for e-commerce must be considered differently because one-size does not fit all – primary packaging must be optimized to not only fit the appropriate shipping requirements, but to also suit the need. The successful online, LA-based underwear brand, MeUndies is a great example. In this case, the primary packaging is minimal since product information is available on the website and marketing occurs over social media.
With Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram being major social media outlets, they represent free marketing tools if used correctly. Since millennials desire to be connected, they will take the extra effort to search for more information while also sharing information if it is deemed worthy of being ‘pinable’. Marketers are always looking for new ways to make a package stand out for on-the-go consumers, which is why the electroluminescent folding carton for Bacardi’s high-end Bombay Sapphire gin rendered so much attention three years ago. Developed by Karl Knauer KG of Germany, this technology has since been applied to other consumer packaged goods such as cereal and electronics.
More recently, Pernod Ricard launched a new ‘connected’ bottle, fitted with Near Field Communication (NFC) tags for its Malibu coconut-flavoured rum brand. The NFC tags turn each bottle into a digital touchpoint for consumers, allowing them to access digital content including prize draws and competitions, drink recipes, a bar locator and music playlists. NFC-enabled smartphone technology is also being used for other applications. For example, Jones Packaging partnered with Thin Film Electronics ASA to integrate NFC OpenSense™ tags into paperboard pharmaceutical packaging.
Finally, to address consumers’ desire to feel good about what they buy, packaging has evolved to serve other functions to meet their aspirational nature. With increasing awareness on social and environmental issues, intelligent packaging technology has the capability to provide real-time information to meet the demands for a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. Smart labels are developing to help consumers find information on how to recycle and where to recycling their packaging. It can also tell consumers anything from the environmental footprint of their package to nutritional information and meal planning. Smart labels also have the ability to prevent food waste – a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. With confusion around date labeling and food being discarded before it is actually unsafe to consume as a result, smart labels can alleviate the guessing game as it relates safe food consumption. Oxygen, ethylene and carbon dioxide sensors can be incorporated into the packaging of fresh food. One example is by Insignia Technologies – they developed an intelligent label for packaged deli meats that indicates freshness not when the product is packaged, but when the packaging is actually opened.
Exploring opportunities to make packaging more meaningful beyond its traditional functions will increase its value to consumers. Smart packaging applications will play a key role in how packaging evolves in the near future.
In order to accelerate smart packaging innovation, intelliPACK, a collaboration between PAC, Packaging Consortium and the Canadian Printable Electronics Industry Association (CPEIA) was formed. This business network aims to unite leading organizations across the packaging value chain to collaboratively explore, evaluate and mobilize innovative smart packaging solutions. For more information, please visit pac.ca/intellipack.html.