Johnnie Walker ‘smart bottle’ performs for consumers and supply chain

By Kate Bertrand Connolly in Beverage Packaging on March 11, 2015

Diageo is making waves in beverage packaging with an electronically tagged bottle for Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky that promises to not only enrich consumers’ experience of the top-shelf Scotch but also provide supply-chain tracking. The brand owner displayed a prototype of the smart packaging at this week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Created in partnership with Thinfilm, the bottle uses near field communication (NFC) technology, integrated with labeling, to let consumers interact with the package using NFC-enabled smartphones.

A thin, flexible NFC tag is attached to each bottle, enabling consumers to simply tap their phone to the bottle’s back label to access product and brand information. The tags are made using Thinfilm’s OpenSense technology; they are applied to the bottles in such a way that the tag is torn if the bottle’s seal is broken.

A Diageo spokesperson describes the package as a “‘smart bottle,’ which uses Thinfilm’s electronic tags [and] links with a user’s smartphone to deliver instant consumer benefits direct to device, such as cocktail recipes, promotional offers and exclusive content.”

She adds, “This is a way of providing relevant content in a more seamless way for the digital generation. And this isn’t just about consumers. The tech allows Diageo to streamline and bring more transparency to its supply chain.”

Each of the NFC tags is encoded at Thinfilm’s factory with an identifier that cannot be electrically modified or copied—by counterfeiters or others who would divert the product during distribution, for example.

In addition, members of the supply chain can use a smartphone or NFC reader to check the tag on any bottle and determine whether its seal has been broken, which would indicate tampering.

The tag’s ability to sense “unsealed” status promises added value for consumers, as well. Consumers tapping their smartphone to the bottle at home, after breaking the seal, will be able to access more or different digital information than they received when tapping the sealed bottle at the store.

“This is very much a prototype and not a commercial product, and so the team is still exploring with concepts and possibilities, but the main aim is to enhance the consumer experience. What we can say is that the possibilities are endless once the bottle is made ‘smart’—the information/data/content available are in theory limitless,” says Diageo’s spokesperson. She adds that it is too soon to know when or where the smart bottle may be introduced.

In the meantime, the number of consumers equipped to interact with NFC-based smart packaging continues to grow. Research firm IHS Technology predicts that global shipments of smartphones with NFC capability will reach 1.2 billion units by 2018.

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