Consumers, brand manufacturers and retailers can all benefit from the advance of digital packaging – given the right marketing strategy behind the product: because not everything that flashes and communicates at the POS is automatically smart. It all depends on relevant customer benefits.
Imagine it’s 6 pm on Friday. After work, you hurry through the supermarket to pick up a few beverages for a convivial evening with friends. A new beer brand on the shelf attracts their attention. As you grab it, the skull on the label starts talking to you. Asks why you seem so stressed? You hurry away. A bottle of whisky in a display explains everything about the production conditions in its home distillery. Meanwhile, the gin next to it is flashing like crazy. Your headache, which has been tormenting you all day, is getting worse. The medication in your pocket reminds you with an acoustic signal that you’re due to take a painkiller.
What sounds like a fictional scene from Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” is already happening in the packaging industry. In the world of smart packaging, nothing seems impossible – at least as far as technology is concerned. But the innovations are still too cost-intensive to be used on a wide scale. Even so, US market research company Prescouter has identified eleven companies already in a position to produce mass-produced solutions for the retail trade.
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“Although the market for intelligent packaging is only just emerging, it’s growing rapidly,” explains Kerstin Haase, Head of the Packaging Segment at Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG. She points to a study by MarketsandMarkets according to which the market for smart packaging will grow to just under USD 40 billion by 2020 (2015: USD 23.5 billion). Other forecasts predict even more potential. To reduce costs in smart packaging, Heidelberg has been working intensively on the topic of printed electronics for many years. “The integration of printed electronics in packaging is critical for the leap into mass production,” says Kerstin Haase.
According to the findings of the Organic Electronics Association, printable electronics should be ready for cost-effective mass production by 2021. Analysts from market research company IDTechEx estimate that worldwide sales of packaging with printed electronics will rise from the current USD 75 million to USD 1.45 billion by 2023.
Currently, smart packaging is most used in the food, automotive and pharmaceutical industries. As an example, Schreiner MediPharm, has developed a Near Field Communication (NFC) label in cooperation with the Swiss company Ypsomed which is applied to the YpsoMate autoinjector and transmits stored information for medication to its electronic supplement – the SmartPilot. The resulting connected device is intended to increase patient safety and help self-medicating users comply better with prescribed therapies. Is another example, the August Faller Group in Waldkirch has launched the “Medical Prescription”, a digitised carton that supports patient compliance with medication. The packaging has a small e-paper display and electronic control elements (buttons), counts the tablets down, reminds the patient of the correct time to take them and reports when it is time to order a new prescription. With an app, the doctor or pharmacist can transfer the prescribed regimen to the carton via Bluetooth.
The sensors and transmitters used in smart packaging can also of course be used for logistics and marketing purposes. For example, NFC tags were used in the Kilchoman whisky bottle mentioned at the beginning, integrated into paper labels applied to each bottle of Machir Bay and Sanaig whisky. Each NFC tag had its own identification and was connected to the Thinfilm CNECT Cloud Platform. This created a digital touchpoint that turned each bottle of whisky into an individual marketing channel, providing information about the supply chain and consumer behaviour. By “tapping” the attached NFC labels with an NFC-enabled smartphone, consumers could access digital experiences with product details, taste profiles, brand messages and distillery information. The cloud platform stored and managed all NFC tag IDs at batch level. As a result, Kilchoman was able to track the time from ship-to-shelf through over a dozen distributors in 13 countries, and even analyse customer interaction data in real time at item level.