The impact of science and technology on packaging

Martens Brouwerij's "talking bottles"

Forgive me for another packaging-related blog, but I seem to have “packaging on the brain” since attending Pack Expo Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, and several of the sessions are still resonating with me.

“Plastic-free” and “sustainable packaging” seem to be the buzz words this year. In fact, “wanting a plastic-free world” was one of Euromonitor International’s top ten consumer trends with the most impact for 2019. Plastic-free and becoming more sustainable were also key topics at several education sessions during Pack Expo, as well as areas of focus at many exhibitors’ booths.

“Packaging innovation has become an integral part of the marketing mix for beverage companies,” said Ron Puvak, managing director of the Contract Packaging Association, in his presentation, “Packaging Challenges in the New Retail Paradigm,” noting that innovation will be driven by sustainability and science and technology.

Why is sustainability in packaging so critical, he asked and answered quoting, Weight of Nations: Material Outflow from Industrial Economies, WRI, “One half to three quarters of annual resource inputs to industrial economies is returned to the environment as wastes within just one year.” Cans, plastic and glass comprise more than 90% of the beverage universe.

I discussed sustainable packaging, its importance and its challenges in last week’s blog, so this time I’m concentrating on the impact science and technology will continue to have on packaging.

Puvak highlighted the following areas in which science and technology are affecting, and will continue to affect packaging:

  • AI/robotics/machine learning
  • Digital printing/mass customisation
  • Flexible equipment – many sizes, more formats
  • Small scale manufacturing
  • Renewable non‐food feedstocks
  • Coatings/barriers for paper-based materials
  • High speed sorting for recycling
  • Nanotechnology
  • Active/Intelligent packaging
  • Traceability/authentication

I discussed the growth of robotics earlier this year and artificial intelligence will be covered in the November 2019 issue of T&CTJ.

Packaging that engages consumers is emerging in importance. For example, while active/intelligent packaging offers better shelf-life needs, anti-counterfeiting measures, a tie-in to e-commerce, and strong branding potential, it can also communicate with consumers, such as alerting them to when a product is bad, Puvak explained.

Through technology, packaging has the capability to “talk.” Puvak highlighted Belgium‐based Martens Brouwerij, which has launched a new beer brand using digitally printed PET bottles that “come to life” using a smartphone app. When two bottles are brought together, the app brings a dialogue between the characters “to life” resulting in talking bottles. (Imagine the conversations RTD coffee and tea bottles could have…)

There is also ample innovation in printing. Some areas of development to track are digital printing (which allows for personalised packaging); direct bottle printing (which eliminates labels and offers customisation such as one-off printing); as well as 3D printing (where users can create DIY prototypes and small quantity samples). Smart labels expand the reach of invisible barcodes to create new possibility for product identification.

Puvak further noted that retail/retailers will continue to impact packaging. Retail drivers include: cost pressures, enhanced experience, convenience, health focus, sustainability leadership, and millennials (I’m also adding Gen Z as a driver). Moving forward, these drivers will have significant packaging implications and affect strategies, such as the need for retail-ready packaging, in store and e‐commerce pack formats, NFC/QR interactivity, transparent packaging, paper/pulp-based packaging, certified sourcing, and of course more sustainability components.

  • Vanessa L Facenda, editor Tea & Coffee Trade Journal. Keep in touch via [email protected]

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