Beneli, based in Sweden, produces high-quality, technologically advanced labels and smart solutions for brands and products. Günther Dieroff, sales and marketing manager, discusses the power of NFC labels to keep products safe, and provide a valuable and changeable marketing platform to brand-owners.
If whiskey were sold in unbranded bottles, it'd be difficult to tell whether you were buying a high-quality drink or a cheaper brand. From the outside looking in, they appear pretty similar. But crack open the bottle, take a sip and you'll know for sure. The only problem is consumers don't get to taste it before buying.
"Criminals can theoretically put a low-price whiskey in a high-price bottle and pretend it is the original," says Günther Dieroff, sales and marketing manager at Beneli. "This is why NFC labels work so well as tamper-proof seals. Consumers can be sure of the contents inside the bottle."
To put the threat into perspective, the global counterfeit market is worth about $600 billion a year, with phoney medical products accounting for about $140 billion.
Beneli has partnered with Norwegian company ThinFilm, which has recently expanded with a new factory in Silicon Valley. ThinFilm produces printed electronics, building the chips and technology inside NFC labels.
Currently in use with Beneli's labels is a tamper-proof tag under the brand name Open Sense. This can tell consumers if the product has been opened previously.
When it comes to medical solutions, devices and supplies, counterfeit products pose serious health issues. EU legislation, which will be enacted in February 2019, dictates every medical package be equipped with a tamper-proof seal, which will drive the market for NFC solutions.
So how good is NFC technology at thwarting counterfeiters?"Each tag displays an individual number and nothing else," Dieroff says. "The rest is done in the cloud."
Criminals would need to remove the NFC label and replace it with another in order to conceal a crime. "This is a hell of a project," Dieroff says. The rest of the information is kept securely on a cloud-based system.
When an NFC label is activated by a consumer's smartphone, it can link to a landing page. This adds another important layer of communication to spread the brand message.
"Normally you see labels with product information in such small letters you almost need a microscope to see what's on there," Dieroff says. "NFC enables brand-owners to add more information."
They can use this space to tell the brand's story, engage with consumers through brand-related tasks, as well as issue additional instructions for use or provide specification sheets.
All this information can be amended remotely via the cloud. Say a brand-owner produces 100 bottles of exclusive brandy but realises, after they've hit the market, that the first ten bottles are substandard because of an incorrectly washed machine used in production.
"We can reprogram the individual tag numbers to deliver an apology to consumers, informing them there has been a mistake in production," Dieroff says. "For example, the message could tell them to return the product to receive two new replacements." This can be done in real time, taking only seconds to change.
Geographical data is another powerful tool provided by NFC technology. It shows where the tag has been tapped by a consumer's smartphone. This means brand-owners with products in different stores, or on different shelves within the same store, can compare which geographical areas or display positions are performing best.
Beneli produces RFID tags and NFC labels. The former is used for long-range items and NFC for short ranges of up to 2-3cm. When it comes to paying solutions, a common use for NFC technology, short-range capabilities are essential. "It has to be very close with the device to read only the tags in front of the scanner," Dieroff says.
As the internet of things grows, NFC will help to connect more items to this network. Unfortunately, with interconnectedness comes more opportunity for meddling with the integrity of products. Dieroff says brand-owners of higher-priced consumer goods (above €20), such as certain alcohol brands, olive oil, truffles or Russian caviar are prime examples of products in need of protection from tampering.
The example of counterfeit whiskey is frustrating, but fake medical products could be life-threatening. NFC technology provides companies with the capability to protect reputation and product, as well as looking out for customers. As Dieroff says, no one wants to be cheated.