Over the last few decades, the way we package products has remained, more or less, the same. Depending on the product you’re looking at, the role of the packaging is to inform a would-be customer of what’s inside, but also to persuade that customer that those contents are worth investing in.
Today, manufacturers have access to an exciting new array of new technologies, which look set to transform the way we present products to the marketplace.
Thanks to some high-profile nature documentaries, the plastics industry has never been under greater scrutiny. Consumers are moving to avoid plastics wherever they can, and governments are acting to limit their use. It’s the perfect environment, in other words, for an alternative to come to be. One such alternative is microfibrillated cellulose (or MFC): a process for creating strong, lightweight packaging materials that are also biodegradable. Unfortunately, MFC is not quite there yet – but the stage is surely set for it (or a similar technology) to sweep the packaging world.
TT Sensor Plus
Not all packaging innovations are so far away: temperature and time sensors are already with us. These don’t just improve upon a packages’ existing functions, but provide a new one entirely: a way of telling a computerised system exactly where the product in question is at a given time, and what temperature it’s been kept at.
This information is invaluable when it comes to troubleshooting a supply chain. If a carton of milk is arriving consistently late to the retailer, then the window for a sale will be accordingly shorter. Moreover, the customer’s experience of the product will suffer once they’ve gotten it home. The more perishable the good, the more pressing this need becomes.
Until very recently, getting around this problem required the use of expensive and cumbersome logging devices – and this presented as many problems as it solved. Modern sensor technologies, happily, are a little more elegant.
Each TT-Sensor-Plus-equipped package comes with a special data-chip built in. Thus, if somewhere along the road, the package falls outside of the desired temperature, you’ll know about it. Readings can be taken using any android-equipped smartphone, and the data uploaded instantly to a cloud-based storage solution, allowing you to keep constant track of a package, wherever you might be in the world.
This doesn’t just benefit the manufacturer, but the consumer, too. Rather than relying on a best-before date on a package, we’d instead consult a simple binary display: red means that the product has gone bad, and green means that it’s okay. If the primary goal of effective packaging is to communicate information about the product within, then what more important piece of information could there be?
Those familiar with Pokemon Go! will be familiar with Augmented Reality, or ‘AR’. This is a technology which supplements the real world with additional content, usually with the help of a smart-device.
So, you might conceivably design a package for a new appliance which automatically summons the manual for said appliance. This would cut down on printing costs while streamlining the overall look of the package.
Ingredient lists, copyright information, and quick-start guides could all be removed, so that all that remains is slick, clean-looking branding. Video content, interactive menu-driven instructions, and other electronic niceties, could also be included, and you could use GPS information to ensure that the correct language is used.
AR allows misprints and other errors to be corrected after the product has been released, without the cost of manufacturing new packaging material. Moreover, it provides an invaluable source of data through which firms can measure the success of their marketing investment.
The ubiquity of smartphone technology among millennials is well-publicised. But what’s often ignored is how many older people are carrying one. In the 55-64 age range, ownership has more than doubled since 2012 – a far steeper increase than we might expect from demographic changes alone. As such, the technology is in place for firms to gradually roll out AR-equipped ‘smart packaging’ – even to products targeting a broader range of age groups.
Through technology, we’re able to do things with packaging that would just a few years ago have been considered the stuff of science-fiction. Such innovations allow us to not only bolster the appeal of the product in question but also safeguard the way that it’s stored and carried.