Tapping into digital innovation and sustainable packaging 

Jenny Stanley, MD at Appetite Creative continues her review of the recent Connected Packaging Summit 2022 with a look at how connected packaging can contribute to companies’ sustainability efforts.Sustainability across packaging is no longer a ‘nice to have’ it’s an essential consideration for brands and packaging manufacturers. At the recent Connected Packaging Summit 2022, a host of industry experts from Tetra Pak, SIG, Elopack, Abinbev and Garcia Carrion and many others, discussed how connected packaging, paired with innovation and sustainability considerations, is creating a compelling new ‘must have’ for brands and customers alike. 

The top eight key trends discussed included: 

Sustainability and packaging

1. Materials matters
All businesses are working towards sustainability, including investing in the circular economy and recycling. In packaging, the mono materials are being adapted and improved for recycling purposes. The clean on print mono plastic and cardboard can now be easily separated. Polystyrene is unpopular in the UK, but in Central Europe it’s now possible to recycle it. So, there are also different considerations in different markets. Overall, cardboard is now becoming integral to packaging, which reduces the plastic and keeps it lightweight.

2. QR Code Outside & Inside
QR codes give consumers the opportunity to find out more about the product before purchase and during use. Using QR codes which share product information or how to recycle the packaging offer a great call to action. To give customers added value, a second QR code can be placed inside the cardboard wrapping, so those who buy the product have a unique experience. This also encourages customers to separate the cardboard wrap from the plastic container to improve recyclability and ensure they get the full connected experience. Some brands have gone a step further and developed an actual ‘tear top’. This encourages consumers to separate the two types of packaging by actively promoting its separation and incentivising them with a QR code on the inside.

3. Connected packaging for all
Theres now a place for connected packaging across all brands and products. With sustainability at the forefront, it’s a great way to speak directly to consumers. Investment in connected experiences is also adaptable and versatile, with the opportunity to focus on plastic in the ocean or the carbon footprint one month and different product messages or ways to recycle the next month, such as special content for holidays, Diwali or Christmas. This works for all packaging; its not just yoghurt or noodle packs, it can be the shampoo bottles or laundry tablets too.

4. Customer education
We’ve always needed to educate customers and find a way to produce this in a circular, sustainable way. Also, plastic isnt the enemy; its very useful but it does need to be cleaned properly and sustainably, so the education around this needs to be clear and easy to understand. Connected packaging is a valuable tool to explain to customers how to be responsible and sustainable, eradicating confusion.

People like to recycle things, but they dont often know how or which bin to put it in. Having that information inside the packaging can really help with the educational work. It’s something that consumers will start looking for on packaging, in a similar way to nutrient information. They’ll start to look for details about how to best recycle the product.

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) uses electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags attached to objects, and this is something we’re going to see more and more on packaging. It takes tracking to the next level – with the RFID receiver activated automatically as part of the information storage. Data collection via RFID is becoming important in a similar way to contactless payment, which ultimately makes everything easier for consumers. Amazon has adopted a sophisticated version of this in its Amazon Fresh and Amazon Go stores with ‘just walk out’ tech used instead of scanning items. This works well for the stores too, offering short shelf and supply chain replenishment. All the information can quickly be made available across the supply chain to better manage stock levels and buying.

6. Legislation
The legislation around sustainability and packaging is changing all the time, and we already have new directives in Europe. The European Parliament for example is bringing in legislation making it mandatory for suppliers of products with plastic caps and lids to switch to attached caps and lids if they want to remain on the market from 2024. We dont know everything about what other new legislation will invoke in the coming years, but we do know it’s driving change across a wide range of industries.

Consumers are concerned about the environment, so many companies are already working to provide a solution to improve the recyclability of packaging and offer transparency to consumers. Connected packaging offers a clear and easy way to share key brand messages and have a two-way conversation with customers to help inform future developments too.

Increasingly, brands need to explain what, how and why they’re making changes, and the value it brings to customers. Tethered caps for example, need to be explained by brands, so consumers understand why the caps are now tethered and help improve recycling practices. With limited space on labels, connected experiences can help with the sheer amount of information brands increasingly need to share to be compliant.

7. Sustainability DNA
Packaging designers and manufacturers are now keeping sustainability front and centre for all new designs. For example, a gumball, which is a very big plastic box that contains liners to transport liquids such as nail polish or egg white. If that liner is empty, you can take it away or fold it into a pallet to optimise transportation, which can both reduce transport costs and CO2 emissions. It’s not just packaging; sustainability needs to be integrated across every business as a core concept. It’s not only about creating recyclable packaging but preventing waste streams – and this thinking needs to be integrated across the entire product development process. It needs to be part of a business’ DNA, from product development, production and shipping to sales, consumption and wastage.

8. Brand ambassador
Brands want customers to buy into a product because it encourages them to become positive brand ambassadors. To do this, they need to understand why a product is good for them and why its good for the environment. Branded content needs to be compelling, appealing, and educational.

Once a brand gets this right, customers will automatically want to share it with others. Customers need to be able to identify with the content, and then share it and get rewarded for that, as they knit together a sense of belonging and family with a brand.

Its important that the connected experience can show the entire brand journey. It serves as a way of saying, this is not where we stop, we hear you and will listen to you. Were trying to bring what we have done, and why we have done it closer to customers, while also listening and trying to understand what to do next. Consumers need to be able to see that step by step in their everyday life they’re contributing to something bigger, which gives them an authentic opportunity to encourage others not yet experiencing this a chance to get involved and make a positive impact.

Connected packaging experiences vary, but ultimately need to open up a whole new world of meaningful content that is authentic, appealing and thrilling. Supported by businesses with innovation and sustainability at their core, they should point consumers to what matters – arguably, first and foremost, how they as individuals can help save our planet.

For more information about the Connected Packaging Summit 2022, visit: https://connectedpackagingsummit.com/agenda