Inductive Intelligence’s tech offers induction-heated-anywhere containers by marrying food and beverage packaging with wireless charging, software, RFID/NFC tags and sensors.
Packaging Digest reported earlier this month on a selection of developments from the IFT food technology trade show. That whet our appetite to find out more about one particularly complex and fascinating packaging-driven technology from Inductive Intelligence LLC. It was during the show that the company’s Greg Clark, co-founder & CEO, took center stage in a technology innovation challenge. In front of a large and attentive audience, Clark was grilled about the company and its patented, smart packaging-enabled heating technology by a panel of industry experts along with Shark Tank’s Daymond John. We felt more grilling was in order, and caught up with Clark in this exclusive interview.
The IFT “Food Innovation Challenge” experience was exciting and informative for the hundreds of us in the audience. How was it for you?
Clark: The entire IFT event was a great experience for us. It opened doors to food and packaging companies, provided great mentorship and I’m sure it’s just a matter of time until Daymond John gives us a call! The event also helped us connect with people doing research in the area of heat transfer, which in time will be extremely helpful.
What is the company’s induction-heating proposition and why is it on-trend in today’s market?
Clark: Single-serve packaging continues to drive growth in center store, and since Apple adopted the Qi wireless charging standard, wireless device charging is booming as well. This is about sitting at the intersection of those two trends and delivering a consumer experience that’s more convenient, consistent, safe and sustainable.
What specific consumers need this kind of on-demand, heat anywhere convenience?
Clark: Convenience has been the number one consumer trend globally for the last decade. Consumers are seeking products that save them time and make even small tasks easier. Wireless phone charging is experiencing rapid growth for that reason. It’s not that difficult to plug your phone in, yet there were over 210 million wireless chargers sold last year alone, and 2.4 billion expected in the market by 2025.
We’re adding more function to that platform, and saving the consumer a trip to the kitchen to guess how long they should put things in the microwave.
At the same time we’re creating entirely new consumption occasions for consumers and brands. We’re also creating great experiences for the consumer in areas beyond food and beverage like home fragrance and heated cosmetic products.
How does it work? What types of packaging are applicable?
Clark: The package requires two things to work, data and metal. The data comes in the form of a radio-frequency identification (RFID) or Near Field Communication (NFC) tag which tells the device exactly how to heat the product. The package in turn is telling the device about the heating progress based on a temp sensor in the tag. In the case of cans and flexible foil packaging there is enough metal in the existing package to heat the product. In the case of paper, plastic and glass, a metal insert needs to be added to the package either in the base or in the cap.
How is venting handled when heating the package?
Clark: Venting is dependent on the method and temperature of the item being heated. We have a patented design for a steamer package—think single-serve frozen veggies or heating precooked pasta—where we plan for some venting. In the case of a can or bottle, it's not really necessary as the temps we're pursuing generally aren't creating enough pressure to cause issues.
Next: Benefits, costs, sustainability, status and more
What are the benefits of your tech vs. other heating methods?
Clark: Our method of heating creates a “set it and forget it” heating process for the consumer that’s consistent, convenient and uses far less energy than a microwave. For the manufacturer, they’ll know that the heating experience they created in the lab will be replicated by the consumer every time, because all of the variables are known and the package provides feedback. It’s consistent and safe. For a food scientist, that’s very attractive.
Is it true that there’s only about a 5 cents upcharge per container to enable the tech?
Clark: The exact cost to equip a package depends on the package design. Given the known cost of RFID tags, we can deliver solutions under 5 cents, but there will also be applications that will be more. According to our data, 70% of consumers are willing to pay between 10-15 cents per package for the convenience our system delivers.
What kind of data is captured in use?
Clark: The data on the package is used first to authenticate the package and send the specific heating parameters to the base device, however, there is additional data on the package that can be used for all of the other functions shown in the above image and more, because the data we collect is associated via the device with the specific consumer.
What can you comment about the sustainability of the packaging?
Clark: It’s our goal to have our solution be 100% recyclable. On top of that, using the package for heating with low-medium inductive power is 90% roughly more efficient than a microwave, doesn’t require you to clean dishes, encourages portion control and promotes the consumption of shelf stable foods.
What’s the possibility for larger sizes and other markets besides food/beverage?
Clark: We can definitely heat packages larger than single serve. Out of the gate we’re focused on smaller items, but we definitely plan to move up in size over time, and even move into the autonomous vehicles and robotic deliver.
What’s the first question a brand manager asks? And what’s their toughest?
Clark: How hot can you get it? To which we answer, “How hot do you want it?” Generally when we show them our ability to pop popcorn in a paper cup, they get it. The toughest question is really around manufacturability. We’re a startup with an enabling technology. Until we get into more trial runs, that’s a tough question to answer with the level of detail many brand managers want.
What major challenges remain?
Clark: As with any startup, getting the capital you need to keep development moving onward and upward is critical, but getting the right capital is even more critical. So, we’re working hard to partner with venture capital firms and angel investors who have solid food and beverage experience, so we can use their experience to avoid some pitfalls along the way. We also have a tight schedule to bring our product to market in Japan. However, our CTO is one of the world’s leading technologists in the wireless power space, and we have a solid plan for getting to market.
What’s the current status and what kind of interest are you seeing?
Clark: We're getting more interest from retailers at the moment that are looking to create a unique customer experience and leverage data to maintain a relationship with the customer. We’re also having productive conversations with packaging companies that seem to be the innovation drivers.
What’s the best-case-scenario timeframe for a company to market test this?
Clark: We’re going to market in ten months in Japan heating RTD coffee and tea for a large global company. Shortly after that, we will be launching a line of flameless candles that can be controlled with your phone in the U.S. and two international markets.
Anything else to mention?
Clark: Beyond cooking on a wireless phone charger at your desk or on your counter, we have a patented design for an automotive application and temperature-controlled vessels. It won’t be long and you’ll be able to heat your coffee mug on the same device and still be able to place the mug or bowl in the dishwasher.