There’s a trend going on to incorporate a wide variety of smart technologies into labels and packaging. An example of this is supermarket chain Marks & Spencer. Earlier this year they introduced a new packaging for their strawberry in the UK. They started using their It’s Fresh! technology in the packaging which increases shelf life.
Eef de Ferrante, director of the recently launched Active and Intelligent Packaging Industry Association AIPIA, said that it seems that all sectors decided that the time is right to start looking into commercial applications for active and intelligent packaging.
AIPIA, the Dutch company that launched in February, already signed up over 40 blue chip companies from different sectors like the food sector, pharmaceutical and logistics industries. These companies want to drive new technologies out of R&D and into commercial use. AIPIA wants to have a look at the entire supply chain to develop standards, implementation processes and communication platforms which will link production, packaging and logistics to the retailer. Some of their member today include Bayer, Motorola, Dow Performance Packaging, DSM, NXP and Avery Dennison RFID and also some logistics companies like UPS and retailers like Marks & Spencer.
De Ferrante said that AIPIA, together with their members, is now developing a wide range of intelligent technologies like RFID, Track & Trace, gas scavengers, sensors and more. Together with developments in nano-technology, NFC and mobile commerce, AIPIA now has the ability to bring all these technologies to a huge market.
One of the applications that AIPIA is offering is a mobile technology. Consumers can use their mobiles or smartphones to communicate with products in supermarket shelves, and this is achieved through technologies on the packaging. Also applications like scanning products with your phone to get a discounts, join loyalty programs and go online to websites catalogues aren’t possibilities anymore, these applications have become reality. But to provide these hi-tech solutions, there is a need for a bread industry network, and AIPIA offers this network.
Amina AITai, founding partner and marketing director at brand innovation lab Immagemme, said that brands need to reevaluate their design process and how they engage with their consumers on packages. Up to now, communication through packaging with consumers has always been one-way and focused on product information. Now brands need to create a two-way dialogue using smart technologies. This is because consumers nowadays want to be involved in the brand, the want to co-create and they can start doing this virtually.
AITai predicts that NFC will become more important, especially RFID, which allows smart phones to engage with tags embedded in packaging. Consumers need to get an authentic and controlled brand experience while in their local supermarket for example. QR codes were popular the last year but they have some shortcoming which RFID can answer to. For example they often need dedicated apps or they are ineffectively implemented. With NFC technologies like RFID, consumers can access information faster and more seamlessly.
But the problem is that NFC tags are expensive. QR codes can just be printed on the labels or packages without a significant impact on the price, but more expense is added to the production process when you want to add tags on the package. AITai said that it will probably be a challenge to smoothly incorporate NFC into the design of packages. It’s up to the packaging designers to strike a balance between being on-brand while also being commercial enough for consumer to benefit from the added value of the NFC.
It’s important to realize that the look and feel of a package will always be important because our brains respond to visuals and colors before they decipher words. But this isn’t enough anymore. Modern consumers need an evolved experience, they need to be engaged in an on-going dialogue. So brands need to create an in-store brand experience and increase the brand communication. And one of the ways to do this is the NFC that was just discussed. It can be used to provide additional content and interactive ways to engage the consumer.
Madelyn Postman, from brand design agency Grain Creative, doesn’t believe that there is no future for QR codes. She said that labels and packages lend themselves to the use of QR codes and they provide an opportunity for consumers to engage. An intriguing application of QR codes are the virtual stores. Images of products are displayed on a screen and clients can scan a products QR code to purchase or reserve the item. Tesco created a virtual store at a train station in South Korea, UK retailer Argos ran a similar campaign at London’s Paddington station in the run up to Christmas 2011 and also Chicago will have its own virtual store soon. But it is true that it takes time to open the app needed to read the QR code and scan the code. And this might be one of the reasons that people are losing interest in QR codes.