The future of packaging is here – well, almost. Here’s our pick of new packaging technologies with the power to change the world.
The times they are a-changin’. The rapid digitalisation of practically everything means that new packaging technologies are reaching exciting heights. We’re not just talking about good packaging design (though that is important too); this is about packaging that has the power to change daily life as we know it.
Just before we look at new packaging technologies to watch, check out this whitepaper on how packaging improvements can help optimise your supply chain…
Please read on to see 8 new packaging technologies to watch:
- EDIBLE PACKAGING
Picture the scene: You’re baking a cake, but rather than measuring out each ingredient before putting it into the bowl, imagine having pre-measured ingredients that you can simply throw into the bowl – with the packaging. With the concept of edible and dissolving packaging for food products, this could become reality.
For years now, we’ve enjoyed the convenience of individually wrapped detergent tablets that can be popped into the washing machine, packaging and all. So why shouldn’t the same be available for food?
The challenge has always been finding food-grade packaging that is stable enough to hold the contents and also safe to use for food. Monosol and WikiCell are just two of several companies hard at work to produce food items in packaging that disappear into the food. Monosol has created water-soluble bags for pre-portioned oatmeal and rice. Made from food-grade ingredients, the bag dissolves when cooked, leaving the food ready to consume. This is particularly good news for professional kitchens saving time on pre-measuring ingredients and ensuring consistency.
One of the drivers behind the trend is the environment. Researchers at the American Chemical Society (ACS) have created an environmentally friendly film made of the milk protein casein, which is reported to be 500 times better than plastics at keeping oxygen away from food. Because it is made from milk, the wrapper is sustainable, biodegradable and also completely edible. Scientists are also looking to add probiotics, nutraceuticals and vitamins to the mix so that food will be enclosed in nutrients. They can even add flavour. So in the future, rather than having cheese sticks individually wrapped in plastic, they could be wrapped in milk.
- MODIFIED AIR PACKAGING
From the very second that fruit and vegetables are picked and harvested, they begin to deteriorate. Microbes such as pseudomonas, acinetobacter and moraxella get to work spoiling produce, after a while giving it a bad taste and odour. But there’s one thing that can stop some microbes in their tracks: by packing food with oxygen-free gases, bacteria can’t grow and the produce is preserved for longer. This is known as Modified Atmosphere Packaging, or MAP. (You may find this blog on food trends driving opportunities for packaging interesting; it includes MAP among others.)
Depending on the food item, MAP pioneer Linde Gases says the gases in the packaging’s atmosphere should vary; for example, it might be nitrous oxide, argon, hydrogen or a more traditional mix of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and a tiny dose of oxygen. By doing this companies can meet consumer demand for ever-fresher foods. The life of sandwiches can be prolonged from 3 to 10 days, and raw poultry’s life span can be extended to triple. It’s no wonder the MAP market is estimated to be worth US$13.78 billion by 2020!
- LIGHTWEIGHT PACKAGING
Lightweighting is a huge trend in packaging. It meets three objectives: reduced material, reduced manufacturing costs, reduced environmental impact. (This blog on highlights of global packaging trends in 2015 has a strong focus on more environmentally friendly packaging.)
Coca-Cola is at the forefront of this trend, with an official lightweighting program reducing cost-savings of approximately US$180 million. In the past two years, the company has trimmed the weight of its 20-ounce (nearly 600 millilitres) PET plastic bottle by more than 25%, its 12oz (355ml) aluminium can by 30%, and its 8oz (236ml) glass bottle by more than 50%.
Another innovator in the space is German filling and packaging company KHS, which won the 2015 World Beverage Innovation Award for its ultra-lightweight 1-litre PET milk bottle. With a thread diameter of just 32 millimetres, the milk bottle weighs a mere 20 grams, saving 2g per bottle. This might not sound like much, but material savings of 2g of PET per bottle means a saving of up to 140,000 euros (or nearly A$200,000) a year based on 50 million bottles.
- SMART PACKAGING
Consumers are becoming increasingly tech-savvy these days, which is fuelling new packaging technologies in exciting and sometimes surprising different directions.
Champagne producer GH Mumm recently developed a new bottle embedded with an RFID chip that tells clubs and bars when the consumer has opened it. (See here for more on RFID labels.) The digitally intelligent bottle uses a sensor embedded in the cork to send a signal to the bar and the venue’s audio and visual system when it has been released. This triggers a personalised, interactive sound and visual experience that puts the drinker’s table in the spotlight and according to GH Mumm, “enhances the celebration experience”.
There’s no doubt alcoholic beverage brands are at the forefront of smart packaging. GH Mumm’s innovation follows on from Diageo’s smart bottle for Johnnie Walker Blue Label, which uses printed sensor tags to detect the sealed and opened state of each bottle, and target customers with timely marketing messages. (Smart labelling is one of the 3 labelling trends food & beverage manufacturers need to know.) And in the United States, Anheuser Busch recently launched its Oculto beer brand with thermochromics ink on the reverse of the label, which changes colour depending on the beer’s temperature, as well as interactive elements for the consumer to scan. And not to be outdone, Malibu has just launched NFC-enabled bottles that deliver content to consumers’ smart phones.
(See here for another look at how coding can allow manufacturers to interact with consumers.)
But the potential of smart packaging goes beyond clever marketing; there’s also huge potential to use smart packaging to educate people on how to recycle the packaging.
- ISOTHERMAL PACKAGING
Not content with smart packaging alone, champagne houses are also looking to isothermal packaging. It’s early days, but the idea is that it will keep the beverage cold for around two hours after being removed from the fridge.
- ANTI-MICROBIAL PACKAGING
Another packaging technology aiming to extend the shelf-life of food products is antimicrobial food packaging. The packaging incorporates properties to suppress the activities of targeted micro-organisms. One company experimenting with this technology is antimicrobial resin supplier Parx Plastics and Additives. Based in the Netherlands, Parx says its Sanipolymers make the plastic antimicrobial, thereby reducing the bacteria by up to 99% within 24 hours.
So what’s the secret? Nature. The company is using zinc in place of toxic materials. Zinc is a nutrient naturally present in food and also required daily by the human body.
Other companies, such as Sirane, are using fruit extracts to address the short shelf-life of fresh meat, seafood and delicate fruits. A blend of the fruit extracts is applied to absorbent pads, which work to reduce microbes and bacteria, thereby extending the item’s shelf-life.
- NON-STICK PACKAGING
Is there anything more frustrating than trying to squeeze the final dollop of mayonnaise from the bottle? Research shows 3-15% of wasted food is left inside of bottles. Fortunately, one Norwegian company has solved the problem with a non-stick coating.
Orkla is working with US company Liquiglide to apply the non-stick coating into its mayonnaise product packaging. The coating, which can be made entirely from food, results in a “permanently wet” surface inside containers to help the viscous liquids slide out easily. This could save one million tonnes of food waste every year – not to mention endless customer frustration!
- MULTI-SENSORY PACKAGING
When it comes to packaging, the role of our senses is more powerful than you might think. That’s why food and drink companies are honing in on the power of sound.
In 2004, Charles Spence, a professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University, conducted an experiment using Pringles to find out how different wavelengths affect our perception of taste. He found that louder, higher-pitched crunch noises were rated as 15% fresher on average than softer, lower-pitched crunches.
Spence has since gone on to study how the auditory aspects of packaging can affect our perception of the product. The potential of this is huge, and beer brands are already using the concept to get the right “fizz” sound when a bottle is opened, giving consumers an enhanced product experience.
Have you spotted exciting and innovative new packaging technologies? Perhaps it’s your own! Tell us in the comments below.
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Image credit / Mafaldita