Digital, Disruptive and Smart!

Smart Packaging, or Active & Intelligent Packaging


Smart Packaging, or Active & Intelligent Packaging (A&IP) to give it a more accurate name, is showing every sign of making a significant impact among brand owners, packaging designers/manufacturers and consumers. Andrew Manly from AIPIA takes a look at some of the latest solutions to hit the market.

In the world of eCommerce, omni-channel retailing and social media communication, brand owners in particular – but also retailers and distributors – are looking at newer ways to capture and maintain the attention of fickle customers, who increasingly use their smartphones to follow the latest trends and products. A&IP features on packaging are making it one of the most powerful marketing tools, as well as offering protection and authentication.

This development has disrupted the market and enabled niche brands to take on the giants of food, beverage and cosmetics and even pharmaceuticals in ways they never thought possible. Thanks to consumer engagement features, as well as digital printing technologies, smaller companies can be extremely agile and grab attention – and sales – without huge marketing and advertising budgets.

Of course, many of the big brand owners have not been slow in catching on to the potential of A&IP. Their needs are more complex. Not only do they need to engage the consumer, but also protect themselves and their image in a world where counterfeiting of premium products is rife, supply chains can be very complicated and open to abuse and there is a vital need to gather better information about consumer behavior.

For pharmaceutical companies, A&IP can offer routes to compliance, authentication and traceability which are now, more and more, imperative if not yet legal requirements.

So whether you can see it, interrogate it for authentication or traceability, interact with it, be entertained by it, or even just hear it, the role of smart packaging is growing. Here are just a few examples.


Blockchain is one of the new buzz words in A&IP, but maybe yet to be fully understood. However, here is a classic example of how a small start-up brand is using A&IP to offer a Blockchain app for consumer engagement and provenance on a new range of sparkling drinks.

Crown Bevcan Europe & Middle East is launching its CrownConnect technology in conjunction with FACT – the all-natural drink. Each can will be marked with a 2D unique scannable code, making FACT beverage cans the first ever to be produced with a unique digital identity.

The can maker teamed up with entrepreneur Olly Bolton to launch Almond, a Blockchain platform that allows consumers to scan the unique code and rewards them by unlocking tokens. The platform was launched in June this year and will also unlock details of FACT Water’s story, giving access to supply chain information and building deeper, say the partners.

The platform, which has been developed in partnership with Internet of Things company EVRYTHNG, intuitively generates rewards and offers based on previous purchases and offers discounts and rewards to users based on their habits and the products they buy. Almond-enabled cans are now available to buy in the UK and selected European countries.

Printed electronics

German medical packaging specialist Schreiner Group has recently come up with a label which provides electronic tamper evidence and can be read using smartphones. Manufacturers benefit as well, it is claimed, because integrated geotracking as a monitoring function allows them to see where their products are used.

Reading the ((rfid))-Digital Void Label requires an NFC-capable smartphone. A browser window shows that the label is intact and displays additional information. Via a button, users can also access the integrated geotracking feature.

ew label launched by Schreiner group which provides electronic tamper evidence
New label launched by Schreiner group which provides electronic tamper evidence

The label indicates tampering in two ways – Peeling the label off the surface produces a void effect as visual tamper evidence. In addition, when scanning the label with a smartphone, a printed electronic (PE) sensor signal will indicate a tampering attempt. The label is a combination of silicon chip and printed conductive track. It includes an invisible sensor of PE that is severed in a tampering attempt.

In another development Schreiner MediPharm and Dutch technology company ECCT (Confrérie Clinique) have developed a smart blister pack for digital patient compliance monitoring to enhance medication adherence by clinical trial participants.

By pressing a tablet out of the new blister pack, data in real time is generated such as the type of medication or the time of extraction. This information is automatically stored and transmitted via smartphone. Also it can send the patient a reminder to take the medication or adjust the dose. The smart packaging solution includes printed electronics without impacting the packaging design, say the companies.

In the food sector, FPInnovations in Canada has developed a printing approach to produce safe microwave susceptor packaging. By utilizing a unique patterning approach to prevent overheating, the risk of scorching or ignition of the package is reduced, while increasing the heat uniformity of the food being microwaved.

A susceptor is a material used for its ability to absorb electromagnetic energy and convert it to heat. By directly printing conductive carbon ink onto cellulose-based substrates, sustainable ‘active’ food packaging is achieved while lowering production costs and streamlining the manufacturing process, according to FPI. This approach has already been successfully trialled on existing printing presses and offers tuneable heating profiles by adjusting the printing conditions.

NFC and AR

Combining A&IP technologies is increasingly common. A good example is Multi-Color Corporation (MCC) and Talkin’ Things who claim to be the first Internet of Things (IoT) packaging platform providers to combine Augmented Reality (AR) and Near Field Communication (NFC) technology to create a unique customer experience in a connected product to help boost sales.

In the Black Beer project, Black, the skull character from the label, comes to life and ‘chats’ with the drinker using a mobile app. The smart label produced by MCC becomes a trigger, with no additional marker implemented, to launch an AR experience. When the customer scans the smart label with the app, the skull engages in an interactive dialog with the consumer. The face recognition feature detects if the customer is happy or sad and customizes the next part of the dialog. Variable AR scenarios are also launched depending on answers provided to questions asked by the skull.

This label demonstrates how advanced smart packaging can interact with consumers via AR facial recognition and incorporates dynamic scenarios dependent on users’ emotions. Additionally, an NFC smart label applied to the bottle’s neck provides a proof of purchase option for 2-stage communication with customers. It recognizes when the product has been opened to provide different messages to the customers.

Talkin’ Things provided NFC technology, creative concept and artworks for AR and software development. The smart labels were produced by MCC. The companies recently signed a strategic alliance to develop more products in this area.

Clever inks

Coca-Cola Turkey recently launched a summer promotional range, making unprecedented use of thermochromic inks to add color, function and fun to ten new aluminum beverage can designs, supplied by Crown Bevcan. Usually only one or two thermochromic inks are combined to communicate temperature changes, but in this instance the ink technology is applied as a true decorative tool, making it an integral part of how the can looks. Four separate inks have been used to create designs that stand out when the cans are chilled.

New aluminum beverage can designs supplied by Crown Bevcan
New aluminum beverage can designs supplied by Crown Bevcan

The designs featured on Coke Red and Coke Zero beverage cans. The images, such as palm trees or sandals, are colorless in ambient temperature and change to colorful patterns when the drink is chilled and ready for consumption.

Matt Twiss from Crown explained, “While we have used thermochromic ink technology for many commercial applications, the Coca-Cola campaign highlights its potential as a decorative tool.” The cans are produced at Crown’s 2 billion per annum unit capacity Osmaniye plant, in central southern Turkey. A total of 70 million units are being produced in 2018 for this campaign.

But it is not just in the beverage sector that these inks are gaining traction. USA-based Chromatic Technologies Inc. (CTI) expanded its photochromic ink capability in Mexico with a Cheetos-exclusive promotion for Frito-Lay, called ‘Where is Chester?’. The brand hid Chester from its bags, making him visible only by exposing the package to sunlight, so grabbing consumers’ attention, and bringing awareness to the promotion.

Consumers could find free product and coupons with points to redeem for prizes and a Chester selfie stick inside every Cheetos bag. The bags display a magnifying glass and a white circle until taken into the sunlight. There, Chester’s brand character appeared, behind the magnifying glass.

“One of the challenges of using smart technology is finding an application that just isn’t a ‘gimmick,’ but that has a meaningful connection to the brand,” explained Barry McCann, new launch leader for CTI. “The ultimate goal is to lift product sales, but for lasting power, it has to speak to the consumer in a way that reinforces the brand personality and promise.”


And it is not just visually or via an app that A&IP can catch attention. NourishCo Beverages, an Indian mineral water supplier, has introduced a limited-edition ‘sound cap’ for bottles of its Himalayan Sparkling brand. These are designed to play various sounds of wind from the Himalayas when you twist-open the cap.

The technology has been designed and developed by J. Walter Thompson (JWT) India. It allows the cap, integrated with a built-in chip, to make sound when opened, which stops when the bottle is closed again. The technology allows the bottle to play the sounds of “whistling winds, melting mists, drop by drop percolation and rare rock surface liquid percussions,” according to JWT, which recorded them by radio transmitters and underwater stream synthesizers.

Andrew Manly, communications director, AIPIA at the ProPak 2018 conference in Greater Noida
Andrew Manly, communications director, AIPIA at the ProPak 2018 conference in Greater Noida


Just these few examples indicate the profound and wide-ranging impact A&IP is having in almost every CPG sector. Other issues which are being addressed include the very important subjects of sustainability and recycling. Several companies are entering the market with solutions, such as paper based batteries, as well as fully recyclable active, antimicrobial films. The market for A&IP is a growing and developing fast. It is set to play a leading role in the disruptive and digital age. So there is plenty more to come from smart packaging.

Published by permission of the author and AIPIA Digital

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