Predictions that smart packaging (also sometimes referred to as intelligent packaging) is about to take over store shelves everywhere have been around for a while, but they finally seem to be about to come true.
This article from 2001 says that consumers will drive the growth of smart packaging with demands for more information, and so far, that prediction seems to be pretty accurate.
So What is Smart Packaging?
Smart packaging isn’t a container with a high IQ. Actually, it kind of is. It’s packaging that incorporates technology to enable the ability to react to an external event. Some examples are medication packaging that keeps track of when you’ve taken a dose, and will remind you if you’ve missed one. Or food packaging that notifies you when the contents are nearing their expiration date. Or this recent patent granted in the UK targeted at fresh produce, that changes the environment by using “a fill material that reacts with water vapour to generate oxygen and absorb or generate carbon dioxide.”
A new report out by Market Research Reports predicts that:
[quote]…the global demand for electronic smart packaging devices is currently at a tipping point and will grow rapidly to $1.45 billion within 10 years. The electronic packaging (e-packaging) market will remain primarily in consumer packaged goods (CPG) reaching 14.5 billion units that have electronic functionality within a decade.[/quote]
Driving this growth, according to the report, will be an aging population that wants easier to parse, information-rich packaging, everyone’s concerns about food safety—which includes counterfeiting, fraud, spoilage, and contamination—and novelty.
CPG companies are the ones investing in and developing these new applications—probably no surprise considering the marketing possibilities smart packaging could offer.
Of course, when there are changes to packaging for our food, pharmaceuticals, and other ingestible or personal products, there are accompanying concerns about the safety of new smart packaging products, and how they might be used.
1. Environmental: Will these packages be environmentally friendly? Even if we assume they’ll have to fulfill the legal recycling requirements already put in place by many local governments, it’s not a given that the core materials will be biodegradable. Plus there’s the potential for smart packaging to add to the trend of increased packaging which has developed over the last decade or so.
2. Manufacturing Capabilities: Will there be enough production facilities, or will current production be able to adapt and scale up to meet demand? The only way smart packaging is going to make economic sense to CPGs—and consumers—is if they can manufacture at high volumes.
3. Safety: Safety concerns are two-fold. The first is the reliability of the technology. A package that indicates the food contents are fine could be a disaster for a brand owner (and consumers) if it’s wrong and it’s actually contaminated. The second is whether packaging elements will migrate into the food or ingestibles (see our posts on nano-packaging and edible packaging for similar safety concerns).
What Does It All Mean?
What’s on the horizon is a big change in how packaging is conceived, created, and interacted with. Be prepared for the standard cardboard cereal box, which hasn’t really changed since its invention, to disappear from grocery store shelves. What you might have on your kitchen table at breakfast is a box that talks, tells you what ingredients its cereal is made from, when it’s about to expire, when it’s almost empty, recommends other products, and link to your social media profiles.
If you’re really interested, there’s more info at Active & Intelligent Packaging Association. They’re also holding a conference in Germany in September.