Packaging has come a long way over the years. Back in the day, it was largely regarded as something intrinsic to the product it carried, and as such was valued, and in the case of larger high-value items, often kept in storage by the consumer should it be required again.
Over time, packaging, in a variety of formats, has evolved and is now widely used across a vast spectrum of industries and markets worldwide. On a global scale, the packaging industry is an enormous economic generator – to put it in perspective, in 2019 the global food packaging market size alone was estimated at £240 billion.
As packaging has matured, so too has environmental and packaging waste management issues, particularly with plastics. These days packaging development involves considerations of sustainability, corporate social responsibility, and strict environmental and recycling regulations.
Coupled with this, consumer expectations have changed and supply chains become more complex, meaning that packaging has to work harder than ever before. Packaging is now expected to preserve and transport products, build brands, delight customers and make supply chains more efficient. In doing so, packaging design must balance a huge range of different criteria, including performance, protection, visual impact on shelf, and of course, be able to meet the required sustainability criteria.
Packaging’s unique role is as much governed by trends as any other industry. Case in point is the advent of smart, intelligent or connected packaging. In a world where technology can now be integrated into everything, digitally connected packaging is creating an incredible opportunity for brands. They can use connected packaging to improve brand image and recognition and to ensure better supply chain quality and control. In essence, this is a way for companies to transform physical packs into interactive brand tools. Connected packaging and on-pack digital communication is helping producers to get in the minds of today’s consumer. This means delivering digital engagement and transparency within every pack can improve brand recognition, provide quality assurance and add real value with new functionalities for enhanced user experiences.
We’re living in a highly digitised and on-demand world. Technology is shifting power from brands to consumers who can access information about businesses and products more easily than ever. And as consumers become more connected, they’re becoming more discerning. They want unique, individualised products that offer engaging content, interactive experiences, and complete authenticity. Connected packaging offers the potential to create meaningful brand relationships, ensure transparency and increasingly connect products to the Internet of Things (IoT).
In all industries, businesses are seeing connected packaging as a way to differentiate their brands, by allowing consumers to easily access sustainability and product quality information, play games, watch videos, read recipes, participate in prize draws and even receive personalised communication, all through the pack itself. In China, for example, 50 percent of consumers scan QR codes several times a week, predominantly with the hope of gaining financial rewards, according to a brand’s recent consumer survey.
For connected packaging to be more than just a novelty, it needs to offer real consumer value, while also strengthening the brand. The use of chemical indicators on food packaging to alert consumers to approaching use-by dates, for example, will help to reduce the amount of food wastage. Researchers at Imperial College London, UK, developed a smartphone-linked, biodegradable spoilage sensor for meat and fish packaging. A simple tap of a NFC-enabled smartphone on the package’s “Freshness Sensor” provides a digital readout of the product’s actual freshness, which is determined by measuring the gases found within each sealed package.
From an environmental perspective, the development of invisible barcode technology that enables enhanced sorting of different types of packaging components at recycling facilities is fast becoming a reality, in much the same way that laser coding and marking technology provides supply chains with a highly efficient and advanced method of applying variable information onto products and packaging. One such example is the use of laser technology to print QR codes on products to provide local recycling instructions that vary according to geographical location. The solution also helps to create important reductions in carbon emissions when compared to alternative solutions such as labels and inkjet printing.
Packaging technology has changed significantly over the years, so we can only expect the market to continue to grow exponentially.