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Intelligent packaging keeps pace with mobile consumers

Intelligent packaging keeps pace with mobile consumers
Smart packaging connects mobile consumers with brands.

Consumers with smartphones and other portable devices can interact with products that use intelligent packaging for that all-important engagement with the brand. Peter Kallai, president & ceo of the Canadian Printable Electronics Industry Association (CPEIA), responds to intelligent packaging market trends and developments in this exclusive Q&A.  Above photo: TUKU

What’s the importance of intelligent packaging?

Kallai: How consumers shop is changing fast. More and more, consumers aren’t taking what they find on a product label or on the signage of a store shelf at face value. They’re turning to their smartphones for on-the-spot product research. A research report last year from Deloitte Consulting found that 84% of retail store visitors use their smartphones before or during the visit to the store for product information and those that do convert to buyers at a 40% higher rate. According to TimeTrade’s “The State of Retail 2016” report, 65% of consumers use their smartphones to compare prices, and 54% use them to research different products.

If retailers and brand owners don’t want to be left on the side lines by this new pattern of behaviour, they have to come up with new ways to engage the consumer at the point of sale so they can influence the purchase decision. That means packaging, shelf labelling and point of sales displays that can communicate with consumers through their smartphones. Adding this intelligence isn’t a new concept, but the technology that enables it is rapidly evolving to make it more cost effective, discreet and functional for widespread use.

Other considerations go beyond consumer engagement at the point of sale. Major brands are also turning to technology to protect against product tampering, counterfeiting and theft.  Some companies have an interest in extending the shelf life of fresh produce and reducing food and packaging waste.

What’s the enabling technology?

Kallai: A key enabling technology for all these applications is printable electronics (PE). PE can overcome the bottlenecks around the issues of cost, manufacturing complexity, and even environmentally sound disposal and recycling, for intelligent packaging.

With PE, inks that can conduct electricity – made from materials such as graphite, silver and copper – are printed on a substrate at high enough density to form a complete electronic circuit, but thin enough to have negligible impact on footprint. The substrate can be rigid, flexible or even stretchable, such as paper, plastic, fabric or glass. The inks can be applied through traditional printing processes such as flexo, screen, inkjet, gravure and offset, as well as through coatings.

PE can be used to create discreet components such as displays, conductors, transistors, sensors, light emitting diodes, photovoltaic energy capture cells, memory, logic processing, system clocks, antennas, batteries and low-voltage electronic interconnects. These can be integrated into simple systems that, for example, can record, store and then transmit temperature information. Fully functional electronic systems can be created in this way, or discreet components and sub-systems can be produced to function as part of a hybrid solution with conventional silicon-based integrated circuits or components. 

Where is this technology in terms of market-readiness?

Kallai: Here are some examples from among the membership of the CPEIA:

Xerox Printed Memory (as seen on the bottom of this carton) is a highly secure, printed label containing up to 36 bits of rewritable memory, for 68 billion possible combinations. For more on this technology, see Smart Label with memory strengthens packaging authentication from June 2016.

CPEIA member Xerox fights product counterfeiting

A report in April 2016 by the OECD and the EU’s Intellectual Property Office found that imports of counterfeit and pirated goods are worth nearly half a trillion dollars a year, with many of the proceeds supporting organized crime.

Traditional anti-counterfeiting methods such as invisible ink, holograms and RFID tags can be copied, and are often expensive.

Last fall, Xerox released a printed memory label with cryptographic security features that overcomes the shortcomings of these traditional options. 

Xerox Printed Memory is a highly secure, printed label containing up to 36 bits of rewritable memory, for 68 billion possible combinations. As examples, such labels can be used to determine if a product is genuine and to track how it’s been handled during distribution. A second version of the label offers an added level of cryptographic security with a printed code that can only be read by a secure smartphone app.

                                                                                       Photo:NFC Authority

CPEIA Member TUKU empowers products to sell themselves for Scholar’s Choice

Scholar’s Choice is the oldest and largest distributor of educational materials and toys in Canada, with 20 locations. It turned to a company in the emerging contactless proximity marketing space, TUKU, to create an in-store media channel that can communicate one-to-one brand messages to consumers’ mobile devices from a retail display.

TUKU’s system uses a cloud-based infrastructure and printable electronic near-field communication (NFC) tags. When a consumer taps or scans an intelligent display or an intelligent package enabled with a tag, it activates a product-specific, rich media message delivered directly to the mobile device, and takes the consumer to a product landing page. The TUKU channel also facilitates social sharing, social commerce and peer recommendations, as well as provides the retailer with new levels of insight into consumer shopping behavior.

CPEIA member NFC Authority forges a new digital relationship between consumer and brand

NFC Authority is another Canadian company that’s levering the power of printed near field communication technology to increase engagement between consumer and brand.

Its market point of entry is alcohol, to help brands stand out on a crowded store shelf. Pilot trials began in June 2016 with three target customer groups – wine, craft brewers and craft distilleries.

NFC Authority’s solution combines a wireless tag with a printed antenna design and software application with a cloud-based platform. Consumers don’t have to install an app – they just need an NFC-enabled device. They tap the bottle to confirm its authenticity. That same tap reveals more information on the product and offers digital engagement opportunities like video, loyalty, ratings, reviews, etc.

With each tap, the brand owner can collect and analyze data such as user demographics, location, likes, social shares, number of taps through NFC’s sophisticated cloud-based analytics tool.

NFC Authority’s printed electronic tags come on industry standard rolls for adhesive lines that are already equipped to place tags. The tags are already pre-encoded with the hardware to scan and register them.

How can our readers learn more about new technologies for intelligent packaging?  

Kallai: If you do nothing you will be left behind and lose customers to those that offer intelligent, technology based solutions.  How do you gain access to such technologies? Through an industry association such as the CPEIA. We can help you identify partner organizations that can help you make strategic investments in such technologies.

intelliPACK is a joint program between the CPEIA and PAC, Packaging Consortium that draws together research organizations, SMEs and multinationals involved in consumer packaged goods and packaging across a number of industry verticals, to advance the development of the intelligence packaging industry using printable electronics.  You can register to receive case studies and event information at

As an example, our next smart packaging workshop will be held on Oct. 25 in Montreal. This is the only workshop of its kind in Canada where you can learn about the new emerging trends and developments in intelligent packaging to increase sales, protect your brand and track products through the supply chain. For more information, watch

Please connect with us through the Printed Electronics Network on LinkedIn if you are interested in the technology, or through the intelliPACK group on LinkedIn if you are only interested in use cases and applications.


Explore cutting-edge packaging, manufacturing and automation solutions from hundreds of exhibitors at MinnPack (Sept. 21-22; Minneapolis).  Use discount code PDigest16 to get 20% off your conference registration.


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