Harnessing digital innovation in packaging

Jenny Stanley, MD at Appetite Creative looks back at the highlights of the recent Connected Packaging Summit 2022.

Innovation across connected packaging is fiercely fast and evolving on an almost daily basis. At the recent Connected Packaging Summit 2022, a host of industry experts from Tetra Pak, SIG, Elopack, Abinbev and many others, discussed the innovation and how it might continue to change the way we use and interact with packaging.

Here’s a summary of the key trends that were discussed at the event…

1. Packaging is now a media channel
In-store before purchase and once a product has been purchased – whether that’s at home, at work or school or on the go – customers can scan the product. Sometimes packaging is kept for weeks or months. There are numerous opportunities for customers to scan the packaging QR code – and brands are now recognising the value of using it as a media channel. From understanding ingredient and nutrition information to playing games and collecting rewards. packaging now offers customers immediate access to more value and a way for brands to connect with them directly.

2. Continuous adaptation
Three or four years ago an app had to be downloaded to access content via QR codes. Now thats changed – and smartphones offer instant access to both QR code and NFC connected experiences and content with one tap. Advances in technology have made the customer journey easy and instantaneous – and this continues to unlock new opportunities for brands to connect with customers through mobile app-based content. Staying ahead of trends, adapting approaches and trialling new technology is essential for companies to stay current with technology-led consumer behaviour. Keep interrupting consumer trends, while listening and learning, to keep customers engaged

3. Smart packaging and NFCs
Near Field Communication technology, better known as NFC, is a proximity-based wireless communication chip (or tag) that’s often embedded within packaging. As with QR codes, connected experiences can be accessed by holding a mobile phone NFC tag reader next to the product tag. One of the main differences between QR codes and NFCs are the security features. NFCs use radio waves to communicate back to the phone so they don’t take any real estate on the label. They’re also secure and can’t be damaged. This is particularly relevant for luxury products where the design of the packaging and label is very important. Once the price of NFCs drops, it’s likely to start an avalanche of the adoption of this technology.

4. Tracking, traceability, and anti-counterfeiting
It’s called connected packaging, but its really adopting the Internet of Things (IoT) which is the foundation of backend software platform tracking data. First party data tracks the digital identity of customers, what is valuable to them, market specific details, demographics, brand values, and purchasing behaviours. A flexible platform is needed to enable various use cases to provide a broad base of useful and reliable data.

By scanning a product, trust is developed. Secure QR codes have been created to track products, their use, and offer solutions for anti-counterfeiting. The most common use for QR codes today is whats called a serialised QR code. This is when each and every product or item has a unique QR code, also known as a digital identity, to curb counterfeit products. Patented technology has also been developed in the US that helps identify whether a packaging is original or a copy.

5. Batch information
Serialised QR codes enable producers to track product batch information, including where it came from; where it was processed; what time it was processed; where it was transported; how long it was in-store; and when it was purchased. It shows a transparent product origin transparency story – and offers manufacturers a way to better track, transport, and store products,while better understanding customer behaviours around buying and using a product.

Some companies are also encouraging customers to scan or register packaging to redirect them to eCommerce experiences via discount codes or added value. Other companies are using it as a product authentication feature to encourage trust among consumers by showing the authenticity of a product. The way batch information is being implemented is varied and nuanced. Farm to Fork traceability is one example of customers tracing product origin back to the original farm to understand where it came from, the farming processes, and even how much the farmer was paid. 

6. Regulation
There are several regulations for digital product passports across the EU, which will require every industry to have a digital identity. This will typically be in the form of a QR code. Initially, it will be for batteries, but other industries won’t be far behind requiring digital identities. Some of this regulation is due to start as early as January 2023. Companies will be required to share key information, such as explaining how to recycle packaging. Manufacturers are increasingly seeing the value of adopting digital tracking solutions via QR codes or NFCs before regulations come into force, especially as they unlock a raft of other opportunities too.

7. Partnerships
It’s easier than ever to order packaging which already has a QR code and authentication system built into it. There’s now a simple solution for every different type of brand and packaging requirement. Increasingly, it’s a partnership between different companies bringing together the solutions for the brands. Historically, one of the biggest barriers was helping brands to understand digital packaging and the value it can deliver, which has now arguably reached a tipping point. 

We’re all operating in this collaborative environment together. The basic pillars for success include product information (e.g. nutrition, recipes);supply chain transparency (e.g. farmer, transportation); engagement (e.g. gamification); and sustainability (e.g. how to recycle). As an industry, we all contribute to these various elements and must cooperate to best harness the fast-moving technological innovation, working together to aggregate value.

8. First party data
As soon a QR code is released, feedback from customers will be instantaneous and continuous. While collecting this data in real time, brands can see exactly what content customers are interacting with and adapt or update it as required. Once that bridge is created to connect with them, it allows brands to dynamically change content on the fly to start delivering more and more experiences. Often, a connected packaging experience has iterative improvements added over the course of a year. Its a world of difference and the interaction with customers is very different.

We can now utilise technology and connected packaging to generate value and differentiate products. Other industries certainly won’t hold back. Companies are starting to understand that they have two options: adopt new technology or lose market share.

There’s more information about the Connected Packaging Summit 2022 here