The latest in intelligent beverage packing

27 April 2018



Active and intelligent beverage packaging is being developed at a rapid pace to fulfil a wide range of criteria. Sonia Sharma finds out more about the latest developments within this sector.


Brand-owners are equipped to share information on their packaging solutions as never before. Using packs to involve and engage consumers has been a growing trend in the beverage industry, as emerging technology expands the scope of what is possible. It is now commonplace to see packaging that reacts to touch, or allows consumers to engage with their beverage by scanning it with their smartphone. Brand-owners see active and smart packaging as a crucial factor for helping them to connect with their customers, ensuring brand loyalty and regular interaction with their products. With the industry expected to grow at a rate of 7.5% annually, hitting $7.6 billion by 2021, brand-owners in the drinks sector have unprecedented opportunities to capitalise on.

Andrew Manly, communications director of the Active and Intelligent Packaging Industry Association (AIPIA) says, “The most prevalent active and intelligent solutions used for the beverage sector tend to function as anti-counterfeit, tamper-evident or authentication features. Usually, they also incorporate some kind of consumer engagement functions via a smartphone app or a code. Other forms of active and intelligent packaging, such as thermochromic inks, are increasingly used to indicate fitness for consumption or to reveal hidden messages when the container is cooled or heated.”

Pushing boundaries

The demand for innovation within this sector was recently highlighted by PepsiCo. In November 2017, the beverage manufacturer agreed to host an interactive session at the AIPIA Congress to seek new packaging ideas and formats for its brands, including its Tropicana juice beverages and Gatorade sports drinks. Participants were allotted specific five-minute time slots to present an outline of their concepts to the company. They addressed the issue of how PepsiCo could deploy active and intelligent packaging across its brand portfolio through consumer engagement and interaction, such as using active packaging to extend shelf life, encouraging interaction with smartphones, and using printed electronics and near-field communication (NFC) tagging.

“PepsiCo is pushing the door wide open for active and intelligent packaging developers to come up with exciting ideas on a truly brand-wide scale,” explains Eef de Ferrante, executive director at the AIPIA Congress. “They are showing great confidence in A&IP, and our association members in particular, to take these technologies into groundbreaking areas for a major multinational brand; in some cases, at mass production level.”

For big-name brands, intelligent pack solutions are a key driver in encouraging consumer engagement. Packs may contain multiple levels of information, from ingredients lists to hidden interactive features. Soft drink brand Oasis launched a special, limited-edition bottle as part of its #RefreshingStuff campaign where a label design was optimised for the social media ‘face swapping’ phenomenon. By using any faceswap app, competition winners could replace their face with a smiling fruit design featured on the label.

Manly says that while brand owners are interested in product security, traceability and stock management, the key area for them is consumer engagement. “They think this is a really exciting prospect,” he states. “That why we want pack designers, manufacturers and those who make active intelligent packaging, to work together and come up with solutions.”

For limited edition packs aimed at younger consumers, exciting designs that harness the creative freedom offered by advancements in technology may be a profitable venture for drinks brands. The idea of enriching a beverage label with face-swapping technology was an ambitious task for Oasis. “Digital solutions make customisation and personalisation much easier to accomplish,” Manly explains. “Certainly, soft drinks and other beverages can access these features. Coke and PepsiCo are beginning to look at the entire A&IP range of options for promotion campaigns.”

We know people want the space in their day to escape with a small break, and research shows that 36% of YouTube users will watch a video for exactly that purpose.

Brought to life

Taking the consumer on a journey is a vital factor in creating a dialogue between the brand owner and the end user. Andrew McIver, managing director at Nestlé Confectionery, UK & Ireland, says: “We know people want the space in their day to escape with a small break, and research shows that 36% of YouTube users will watch a video for exactly that purpose.”

Technology such as augmented reality (AR) enables brands to bring static advertising campaigns to life, transport people across borders and turn packaging digital via a smartphone app. While AR is by no means a new concept, it has become a firm favorite among drinks companies as a means of increasing brand awareness and strengthening customer loyalty. More than 3.4 billion people worldwide have smartphones – and that figure expected to double by 2021 – so opportunities for manufacturers and brands to connect packaging, products and the consumer to the internet of things (IoT) has never been greater. Second-generation QR codes, NFC, RFID and electronic printing innovations mean that scalable traceability, security and supply-chain monitoring solutions are economically viable and implementable. The same packaging can also provide valuable information and experiences to the consumer, such as greater access to functional ingredients and health information.

“Now that brand-owners have a better understanding of the format, and printing technology has enabled more sophisticated features such as embedded security codes, the future for QR looks much brighter,” says Manly. “Its key benefit is that it can be incorporated easily onto the ‘landscape’ of most branded packs without using too much space. So it is very ubiquitous and cheaper than some forms of A&IP to use.”

IoT agency Evrythng – which provides a cloud-based IoT software platform – worked with Diageo to produce a smart Johnnie Walker whiskey bottle. It enabled cross-industry solutions, including brand authentication, track-and-trace monitoring and, once opened, engaging content to consumers.

“Data flowing from digital identities on the web can solve operational retail challenges, such as real-time tracking inventory and brand protection, by fighting grey-market traded or counterfeit products through digital authentication,” explains Andy Hobsbawn, co-founder and CMO at Evrythng. “For brands, there are ample sales and marketing opportunities to use products to optimise content through digital in-store and post-purchase experience.”

Sharp strategy

Working with the IoT agency SharpEnd, Malibu recently launched the next phase of their campaign with its connected bottles. The bottles incorporate NFC technology embedded into the sleeve to enhance the shopping experience for consumers by creating new digital touch-points. Each bottle will carry a neck-hanger that invites consumers to tap the front of the bottle with their NFC-enabled smartphone.

Apple’s iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are NFC-enabled through the iOS 11 system that allows the device to read any NFC tag – instantly bringing another 120 million users into the scope of digital packaging. It is estimated that by 2020, the number of connected products will exceed 30 billion.

Colin Kavanagh, global vice-president of marketing at Malibu says, “Following the success of our connected bottles trial in the UK last year, we are committed to continue on this journey to connect with consumers through our bottles using the internet of things.” By tapping the Malibu sunset, consumers can unlock three digital experiences through their mobile browser, including an interactive ‘Shake Your Coconuts’ game that offers several different Malibu prizes to be won, a new drink recipes with videos offering consumers guidance on how to make the most of their drink, and exclusive Malibu-related media that can be downloaded.

SharpEnd founder Cameron Worth says, “Bottles are now media platforms, which are able to drive localised content that is defined by the market that sells the product and maintains the consumer relationship. Once the bottle becomes a media platform, there are so many different things that can be delivered that are beneficial to shoppers. This provides an entirely new way to communicate with them, and brings Malibu directly in front of its target audience, presenting the opportunity to drive brand loyalty through service delivery. IoT on drinks bottles is a global trend, and we will see further markets in 2018 engaging in this technology approach.”

Earlier this year, Jameson also took a leap into the NFC arena. The whisky campaign involved a limited edition bottle to mark St Patrick’s Day, in which the pack had a crest on it equipped with NFC technology. When users tapped the bottles with their NFC-enabled phones, they were granted access to instant prizes and giveaways. “Capitalising on the development of the internet of things, Jameson is engaging with consumers in a new way, igniting a consumer-led desire for experiences from brands and products,” says Taryn Casey, global head of digital at Pernod Ricard.

New perspective

Smart packaging, however, does not always have to involve a smartphone or IoT. It can come in many different forms – tactile bottles and sensory engagement being one of them. Engaging consumers through these elements can also generate interest, as Absolut has demonstrated through its new special edition pack, Absolut Uncover. The bottle is adorned in sequins and encased in a fabric cover. The ‘Absolutely Uncover Case’ has a ‘hand-flip’ feature, and delivers a sensory element through the opportunity for consumers to move the sequences around and create their own customised patterns on the case.

The beverage sector is one of the key growth areas for active and intelligent packaging going forward. “As the issues of scalability and cost are being overcome, then incorporating multifunctioning A&IP components for consumer engagement, in particular, will, we believe, increase rapidly in the next few years. Connecting packaging to IoT provides incredibly useful metrics to brand-owners and retailers,” Manly explains.

Worth also echoes this sentiment, saying, “It’s a flag in the ground for the industry. In the same way that brands appointed digital, social and mobile agencies because they realised that was a transformational opportunity, so IoT is no different. Just because we’re working with a new set of technologies doesn’t mean we need to adapt to new models or process, it just means that brands need to work with the right people to maximise that opportunity.”

Consumers are increasingly used to scanning packaging, or using apps such as face swap to engage with a brand.
Oasis launched a special, limited edition bottle as part of its #RefreshingStuff campaign that worked with face swap apps.


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