As the number of products continues to increase exponentially, the time customers have to make decisions has correspondingly fell dramatically. The use of smart or efficient labels not only helps consumers to understand the products they are interacting with and make the right decision on what to purchase but there are numerous supply chain efficiencies to be had by companies employing smart labelling well. Dave Howell assess the health of the smart label market and discovers innovations and a bright future for intelligent labels
The labels that adorn every type of packaging are about to move through an era of transformation. Where print continues to innovate offering brands a greater array of options on every kind of substrate, brands are about to embrace new technologies that will see smart packaging become a reality thanks to advanced label technologies.
According to Grand View Research, the global smart packaging market is expected to reach USD$26.7 billion by 2024. This interest in smart packaging is being driven by the awareness that has reached critical mass with NFC (Near Field Communication) technology. The ubiquity of the smartphone and the near universal support for NFC on handsets, has delivered to brands a new communications channel they can use to reach their customers in new and innovative ways.
An example here was the announcement last year that E Ink Holdings, HTC Healthcare and Palladio Group would have collaborated on the development of a new smart label for healthcare services. The primary goal was to reduce the instances of nonadherence. Information displayed includes barcode, QR code, multi-language text message and graphics. E Ink’s smart packaging label is compatible with multiple wireless communication protocols such as BLE, Wi-Fi and ZigBee.
Using technology either embedded in the substrate of packaging or as a label is offering brands opportunities to combat fraud and differentiate their brands in what can be crowded market places. Selinko for instance uses RFID and NFC to give products an identity. Partnering with the Belgian chocolate brand Leopold Cuberdons, NFC chips were used to customise gift packs that when unlocked with an NFC smartphone took the consumer to a dedicated web page. Selinko also recently partnered with Toppan Printing to develop a method of detecting whether a wine bottle has been tampered with.
Also, The Science Foundation Ireland-funded Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research (AMBER) Centre have given details of their research: The team has produced a printed device with 2D nanomaterials. Jonathan Coleman, who is an investigator in AMBER and Trinity’s School of Physics, said: “In the future, printed devices will be incorporated into even the most mundane objects such as labels, posters and packaging. Printed electronic circuitry (constructed from the devices we have created) will allow consumer products to gather, process, display and transmit information: for example, milk cartons could send messages to your phone warning that the milk is about to go out-of-date.”
Tag and Label Manufacturers Institute, Inc. President, Mark Tibbetts commented to Packaging Today about advanced label technologies: “There has been great improvement in conductive inks printed circuitry and we are beginning to see movement in the space. But for mass acceptance it is still based on the demand side requesting more and supply side working to lower price.”
Denis Markov, strategy and M&A director, Avery Dennison warns that many of the more advanced and exotic label technologies have yet to find a mass market: “Flexible printed circuits are a reality in electronics components applications. However, there is no indications that such complex expensive technologies will impact label and packaging industry in the short-to-mid-term. Flexible displays in label and packaging industry are technical feasibility and relative cost effectiveness has been recently demonstrated by Anheuser-Busch InBev in Oculto beer application for example. Basic display applications are feasible. However, ROI beyond promo campaigns is questionable.”
The convergence of several technologies including conductive inks, printable circuits and adhesives has already resulted in the development of practical smart labels. One example is the RFID label from Schreiner PrinTronics.
When the printed RFID sensor platform is used to seal a product pack the label performs two essential functions: By means of a sensor, it continuously records temperatures across the entire supply chain and stores the information throughout the label’s lifetime. A very thin, flexible battery embedded in the label enables such long-term data logging. There is also an integrated first-opening sensor which indicates in the corresponding smartphone app whether or not the label has been cut through and the box opened, exposing the contents to possible tampering.
Brands need to ensure that the smart label technologies they are developing have a clearly defined purpose as Cameron Worth, founder of SharpEnd, the UK’s first Internet of Things agency explained: “With an early stage technology, such as NFC, brands should bear three key principles in mind. Firstly, defining the value proposition from smart packaging interactions – unless it provides real value don’t do it. Secondly, with any new technology, you need to make it really clear what the consumer needs to do, why they should do it and how. Lastly, brands need to make sure that before investing in any smart packaging programmes that all internal stakeholders are aligned on what the overall goal is and the steps that need to be taken along this journey and associated deliverables.”
That’s the spirit
As smart label technology has evolved, more brands have been experimenting with the unique features these can offer. A recent example is Northern Lights Spirits (NLS) – a distillery in Finland that has partnered with ThinFilm to create a ‘smart bottle’ for its Kalevala brand.
The bottles feature Thinfilm’s NFC SpeedTap tags, which combine with cloud-based software, enable remote tag management, custom content delivery, detailed analytics and reporting.
As a result, brand marketers can instantly deliver authentication messages, brand stories, promotional offers, product news, and other relevant content.
“We’ve spent years creating what we believe to be one of the finest gins in the world, and sharing that unique Kalevala story with gin enthusiasts is very important to us,” said Moritz Wüstenberg, managing director for NLS. “Thinfilm’s NFC solutions now provide an effective means to do that, and we feel it will contribute significantly to consumer loyalty and the overall popularity of Kalevala Gin.”
Packaging Today caught up with Wüstenberg and began by asking how the continuing development of sustainable packaging is influencing label design and technology. Wüstenberg responded: “For the trialling of the technology we opted to have an additional label which we place on top of the existing one. In the future, we want to integrate the call-to-action message into the label itself. This is the next step we will take.”
As to how the label communicate brand values to its customers, he explained “The label we use reflects traditional Finnish values which could be summed up as simplicity, purity and honesty. We always strived to have a simple and pure label without too many elements that would draw attention away from what the product actually is and strives to be.”
For brands, the use of more technology with their packaging ranges is inevitable. They understand that consumers want more information about the products they buy. But consumers are also looking for novel experiences that packaging and labels can deliver. The burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT) for instance holds massive promise and potential for all brands no matter their market sector.
Labelling Iceland Foods
Ian Schofield, own label and packaging manager, Iceland Foods
Can you point to any label innovations you think will have an impact on the packaging sector?
Active and Intelligent packaging is a massive growth area. We are going to see more interaction with the label through our mobile phones, such as indicators to support the shelf life. Drug labels which will speak to us, the list is endless. I also like label pads with scavengers to support shelf life. Digital print will also be massive with personalisation, uniqueness plus speed to market.
How is advances in label technology improving brand security?
This is now standard on big purchase items like drinks/baby food with both covert and overt features to stop counterfeiting. New features are coming all the time and the label industry leads here. Inks play a vital role and we are almost getting to the point of each label having its own DNA profile built in. We like the way the label industry is driving change here.
Are we close to the commercial use of conductive inks, flexible printed circuits and even screens on labels that can then be applied to packaging?
Not a big area for us however batteries are now smaller than ever and you can do this now. It’s making it commercial for everyday use that is the key. This area is only going to get better.