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Beyond the hype: Smart packages need to deliver value

As those consumer packaged goods companies that have attempted to take advantage of the myriad of slick new smart-packaging technologies coming onto the market have quickly learned, smart packaging that does not deliver a clear benefit to the consumer is not very clever at all. At the Intelligent & Smart Packaging USA conference held early this year by IDTechEx (www.idtechex.com) and Pira Intl. (www.piranet.com), the message was clear: Just because it can be done does not mean that it should be done.

"Consumers want more than a gimmick," Dr. William Connolly, senior scientist, corporate packaging department, Procter & Gamble, U.K., told attendees. "To increase sales and increase the value of a product, you must think about the consumer," he advised. Among the value-added smart solutions he recommended were packaging technologies that can:

  • Help the product arrive to the consumer in a better condition (barrier films, moisture scavengers);

  • Indicate to the consumer the condition of the product (ripeness indicators, time/temperature gauges);

  • Apply the product more effectively (electronically powered applicators);

  • Deliver the product at the right temperature (self-heating and self-cooling cans);

  • Make certain the product is used correctly (timing devices); and

  • Ensure that the product is genuine (anti-counterfeiting features), among others.

Agreed Clifford Friend, professor of Materials and Medical Sciences, Cranfield University, U.K., "You have to put the consumer into the loop to determine the real value of the product." Friend added that CPGs need to learn how to manage the hype surrounding smart technology, so that they can deliver the most appropriate solutions for their products' demographics.

Supporting these views, managing director of Pira, Michael Hancock, cited market research conducted by the group last year indicating that freshness indicators, "doneness" indicators, time/temperature indicators and printed electronics are viewed by converters and retailers as being among the most important technologies for intelligent packaging through 2008.

Already, examples abound of successful packages that have employed smart technologies to add value to the consumer experience. Among them, Procter & Gamble's (U.K. & Ireland) SK-II Airtouch Foundation cosmetic package that uses ionization technology to apply individual foundation particles, invisible to the naked eye, perfectly to the skin; NutraSystem's Aquaescents? water bottle, which uses aroma-infused caps to add calorie-free flavor to plain drinking water (see PD, Sept. '04, p. 1); and self-heating cans for a line of Wolfgang Puck gourmet coffees from WP Beverage Partners LLC (see PD, Dec. '04, p. 1).

Another example is BRL Hardy Wine Co., Australia, which in 2002 began using genetics to foil wine forgeries with a brand security system that incorporates DNA coding into product labels for its flagship brand, Eileen Hardy Shiraz (see PD, Jan. '02, p. 4). Last month, Rosemont Pharmacy in Rosemont, IL, began distributing Rex-The Talking Bottle from Wizzard Software (www.wizzardsoftware.com), a device that allows audio instructions to be added to the base of a medication bottle that can later be played back by the user. And the list goes on. What follows is information on several new smart packages gaining in popularity that have been designed to address specific consumer product-usage challenges.

In the produce aisle, pears have traditionally posed a problem for consumers trying to judge this fruit's level of ripeness. Says Kevin Moffit, president of the Pear Bureau Northwest (www.usapears.com), "Because many of the most popular pear varieties don't change color as they ripen, shoppers have had to rely on the age-old 'touch test' when purchasing them at the supermarket. For produce managers, this same time-consuming method is also used to rotate bulk stock, with mixed results." First launched in Progressive Enterprises' New Zealand supermarkets last year, the ripeSense(TM) pear package uses a clamshell and sensor label to give consumers a visual indicator of the ripeness of the pears inside. The ripeSense label, under development for more than seven years by Jenkins Group Ltd. and HortResearch and now available from Ripesense Ltd. (www.ripesense.com), New Zealand, works by detecting the naturally occurring aroma compounds given off by the fruit as it ripens.

Explains Keith Sharrock, Ripesense research and development spokesperson, "The special clamshell pack captures the aromas, and the label then reacts with them to change color and hence show ripeness levels. Easily recognizable, the sensor label changes from red, which denotes crisp fruit, to yellow, meaning the pears are fully ripe and at their juicy best." In addition, the sensor shows transition colors between red (crisp), orange (firm) and yellow (soft).

The ripeSense pear pack is a four-pear recyclable polyethylene terephthalate clamshell (sourced from suppliers local to Ripesense) that is molded to fit the shape of the pears. The container design, developed to capture the emitted aroma, protects the fruit from crushing or bruising, allowing retailers to sell ripe, tender and ready-to-eat fruit without excessive shrinkage. The package also incorporates interlocking feet for easy stacking and display at a 35-deg angle, and ventilation holes that enable excess CO2 and moisture to escape.

Now available in Woolworths and Coles supermarket chains in New Zealand and Australia, as well as in select retail chains throughout the U.S., ripeSense pear products have a suggested retail price of between $2.99 to $4.99. Says Ripesense general manager Cameron McInnes, "While the price is higher than bulk fruit, research has shown that this is no barrier to repeat purchase. This is a value-added convenience product and as such comes with a necessary premium attached."

Moffit adds: "Today's consumers are sophisticated, busy and looking for easy and healthy food options. Based on early indicators, the ripeSense pack is going to be a successful and exciting option for them."

Another example of a smart technology that is aiding consumers in determining product quality, while giving CPGs a way to make sure their goods are consumed at the height of their freshness, is a consumer-activated smart label that measures time elapsed once a package has been opened. The Timestrip(R) label, developed and marketed by U.K.-based Timestrip Ltd. (www.timestrip.com), is a single-use, disposable, smart label for refrigerated and frozen products that automatically monitors lapsed time, from 10 minutes to 12 months.

Inventor and Timestrip CTO Reuben Isbitsky says that the company was established in 2000 to develop smart-label technology to monitor "use by" and "replace within" dates on products. "Some products have to be used within a certain amount of time after opening," he says. "Oftentimes it's difficult for consumers to recall when they opened a package." He adds that a product that is shelf-stable before opening may reach its use-by date once opened, even before it reaches its sell-by date, further confusing consumers.

Timestrip label technology uses capillary action to enable a tinted liquid to migrate, or diffuse, through a micro-porous material at a consistent rate. When inactive, the bottom layer of the multilayer laminated label substrate holds a sealed bubble of food-grade liquid. When the consumer depresses the blister, the liquid is forced into a chamber above where it begins to migrate across the label. A clear window in the label, marked in the desired time increments, allows the consumer to view the colored liquid as its moves across the substrate.

According to Isbitsky, in addition to its use with perishable foods carrying "once opened use within" instructions, Timestrips can also be used for applications such as medical products that require frequent replacement, like eye drops; pharmaceutical products with limited sterility; and disposable items, such as toothbrushes and water filters, that require routine replacement. "If you can get customers to change their products more often," Isbitsky says, "you can sell more product."

To build brand awareness for the technology, last year Timestrip Ltd. released the smart label as a standalone retail consumer product in the U.K.'s Morrisons supermarket chain. Packed in a clear clamshell holding 10 adhesive-backed labels, measuring 1.5x0.75 in., the strips are offered in seven- and 14-day refrigerator versions and in a two-month format for frozen products.

In the U.S., Timestrip tags are now available from DayMark Food Safety Systems, in two-, three- and five-day time-progression strips. According to Isbitsky, Timestrip labels are "ideal for foodservice environments, where HACCP [Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point] regulations dictate that all food products must be labeled upon arrival and storage in the fridge to ensure first-in/first-out stock rotation."

CPGs need to learn how to manage the hype surrounding smart technology, so that they can deliver the most appropriate solutions for their products' demographics.

Taking the technology a step further, at April's Interpack trade show, Timestrip Ltd. in cooperation with Crown Zeller (www.zellerplastik.de) of Germany introduced the Lifetime Cap?a new bottle closure integrating a Timestrip label, which is activated when the consumer opens the package. Isbitsky relates that the cap could also potentially be used for tamper-evidence and anti-counterfeiting applications.

A new brewing system from Kraft Foods, Inc., first launched in France last June and scheduled for U.S. release this fall, uses smart bar-code technology to increase consumer product-preparation convenience. The Tassimo Hot Beverage System allows consumers to prepare single servings of a variety of hot beverages?from coffee, tea and hot chocolate to cappuccino, espresso and latte?in less than one minute, without having to make any adjustments to the brewing machine.

The system is made up of two components. The first, the Tassimo brewing machine, is made by Saeco Intl. Group S.p.A. of Italy and will be distributed and serviced in the U.S. by Braun, a division of The Gillette Co. The second is the proprietary Tassimo T-DISC, an injection-molded "pod" that contains a precisely measured amount of fresh coffee, tea, chocolate or concentrated milk. A bar-code label on the disc holds essential brewing information, such as the amount of water needed, the brewing time and required temperature.

In Europe, where the system is now being used in France, Switzerland and the U.K., RPC Bramlage (www.rpc-bramlage.de) is supplying the discs, which are filled, sealed and packed at various Kraft Foods sites in Germany, according to the molder. In March, Kraft announced that it will be adding capacity to its plant in Pennsylvania for production of the T-DISCS.

In the U.S., the Tassimo machine will be available for purchase this fall in a number of specialty retail locations, such as high-end home goods and housewares stores, and on the Tassimo and Gevalia websites for a suggested retail price of approximately $189. The T-DISCS, filled with premium products from Gevalia, Suchard and Twinings, will be available where the machines are sold.

Kraft reports that in France, consumer reaction to the system has been "extraordinary." In fact, according to recent Kraft research data, Tassimo received "outstanding satisfaction levels" from consumers with both the system and the drinks.

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