Why is blockchain important to the packaging industry?

From volatile crypto currency to a solid system adding value for the supply chain. Blockchain technology can be the key to value chain transparency and a solution to the ever-growing problem with counterfeits.

What is it?

A Blockchain is a database of records, here called blocks. What makes the database special is that these records are interlinked, or chained, using a hidden code. This is useful in a supply chain involving transport and transactions that can be recorded as blocks. Each block contains a cryptographic link to the previous block plus information on when a transaction occurred, who was involved and much more.

This may sound slightly abstract, but it makes the Blockchain concept decentralised and transparent. A key element is that the process is spread out across multiple computers with the consequence that no one has ownership of the information on the “ledger”. A non-corruptible database!

Using a Blockchain you bypass the concept of a centralised organisation by giving everyone who wants to use a Blockchain a complete and unalterable copy of the register of all transactions.

Why is it important for packaging?

Blockchain technology relates to packaging as it can be used to:

  • Provide consumers information regarding a product’s authenticity and origin. The identity of a product can be verified as the packaging is read and recorded to the “ledger” when handled along the transport, all the way to the destination. As the records can’t be altered retroactively, it means that all information on the ledger is by default authenticated, but without the paperwork of today.
  • Track and trace products along the value chain. When the value chain (packaging converters, printers, raw material producers, fillers, brand owners, retailers, etc.) join up in a Blockchain and makes the process transparent they will all share the same picture of origin and handling of products. If a batch is contaminated it can then easily be traced. Traceability is a key aspect and an opportunity, in particular for the food and pharma industries.
  • Ensure brand protection and serve as anti-counterfeit technology. Consumers will be able to tell a fake product simply pointing their phone at the packaging and read the QR code. Blockchain will prove to be a useful tool for building brand trust as a neutral and immutable system.

The demand for transparency and traceability is increasing, driven by counterfeits troubling the pharma industry and recent food scandals that shook the industry. Using Blockchain technology the consumer with a smartphone can simply scan a QR code on the packaging to follow the product journey, from farm to plate.

Who are using it already today?

It might not be mainstream, yet, but the technology is already in use for mundane items such as milk and coffee. In the lead we find major food suppliers like Arla who are running a pilot project in Finland using Blockchain to provide transparency for milk products. Nestlé recently started up their pilot but in a larger, or even global scale involving milk and oil. Barilla is using the technology in Italy to certify fresh basil.

Also the retailers are also into this. Carrefour is leading in Europe using the technology on a number of categories like poultry, eggs, cheese, milk, oranges, etc. On the other side of the pond Walmart is demanding Blockchain traceability for selected vegetables.

Where is this going?

This is only the beginning. Driven by the main advantages’ security, decentralisation and transparency Blockchain as a tool will gain momentum and develop fast.

The technology might seem complicated to use, but the tools are available and new entrepreneurs are coming in with easy to use solutions. With a straightforward access we can expect to see a rapid adoption rate, with a variety of applications. The packaging industry needs to be ready to handle their part of the chain of blocks. Printing and packaging are keys for success.

Illegal, immoral… and not a bit fun

Counterfeiting is a growing problem, no doubt, and it’s not only about expensive bags, perfume and alcohol. This is also very much a concern for the pharmaceutical industry where dodgy imitations slip into the system. Today the situation is the same or worse for all the above categories, and it’s getting nastier…

fakefoodThe forging and faking is breaking new grounds and is sliding down the price curve. Nothing is sacred and there are fake soft drinks to be found, as there is fake olive oil, not to mention fake milk and wine. The other day a production site for fake alcohol was found in the UK. A plant making fake brand-name vodka was raided in Derbyshire. We are especially grateful these imitators were stopped as they were fortifying their product with anti-freeze…

Europol has during the last couple of months been busy coordinating efforts to curb counterfeiters and have as a result seized a staggering 2500 tonnes of fake food products. The damage is not only to the brand name but forged products can be harmful in other ways as well. Obvious when the product is topped up with anti-freeze or similar.

It not easy to spot the real McCoy as the crooks are rather sophisticated. Not all are though,fakeschampoo some of the taken vodka bottles were giving it away with obvious spelling mistakes on the label. What to do then if you want to take the risk and go further than to your micro brewed beer and locally produced produce?

The problem needs a good solution and that as fast as possible. A fake can seldom be spotted just by looking at the product. There are many suggested ideas for how we can distinguish the bad apple. It seems to be hard to agree on a standard so it better to find a solution that fits your product category. If it is printed electronics, holographic prints, RFID technology, security ink, product numbering, watermarks or invisible printing. It’s not cheap but the alternative is worse.

You will have to add something to the packaging that is hard to copy to make it more antifaketagdifficult or even impossible to copy. Last week Diageo and Thin Film Electronics presented a “smart bottle” with a printed sensor tag. The tag can be read using a smart phone and will convey any information the producer adds to the tag. The read tag will confirm the origin and of course give other interesting information to the consumer. Brilliant.

This is all new and the tag will be properly introduced next week at the electronics conference in Barcelona. This is good news as we need many solutions to this growing problem spreading across food categories. It doesn’t mean that I will stop supporting my local micro brewer but it will make life easier and safer for the consumers of the world. More ideas to make faking brands harder, please.

I need to go down to the store for some bread and milk. But I can’t find my Google glasses…

Or, are we finally technology mature enough?

Interpreting the results from a new IGD study the answer to the question is probably to be understood as “we are getting there”. We are not quite there but I am really impressed to hear the 43% of the respondents could see themselves using wearable technology when shopping for food and groceries. The respondents are in this case representing the UK but I would like to think of this as an indication.

This is good news for the digital technology industry. But it’s great news for all interested in smart and intelligent packaging. There are many interesting solutions available to get food packaging to communicate with the consumer. But the obstacle and main requirement for this to actually start happen is to have a receiver. That is somebody who is willing to listen to the communicating milk bottle on the shelf.

We can imagine that the shopper today has a smart phone which can be used for communication with smart packaging. The downside is that it involves an active and engaged operator. You cannot expect the average consumer to scrutinize every item using their phone in the supermarket aisles. This is a completely different thing when you have devices like smart glasses, smart watches or similar.

The interviewed consumers say that they are interested in finding better deals using the Google glasses. But printed electronics on packaging will also inform them about best before dates, product content, suggested usage and much more.

Consumers better informed at point of sale will also be good for the food waste problem.

smart glasses

Can packaging persuade you to eat more insects, bugs and creepy-crawlers?

Now that’s an interesting question. I would say yes it can and if you throw in a better word for these creatures you will increase your chances to build a market.

In a FAO report from last year it’s made clear that we need to get used to the idea of getting protein and nutrition from insects. As a matter of fact crickets have more vitamins and minerals and as much protein as chicken. And that with a much smaller carbon footprint. Not bad.

This sounds great but is still in most consumers eyes, appalling. It is however estimated that as many as 2 billion people are already into the habit of eating insects. The challenge is to get a foothold with insect based food on the markets in the developed world.  There are a few brave suppliers but without a general distribution it’s hard. To build up the demand I think you need to leave the packaging design often used today. That is with illustrations of what’s inside. A picture is worth a thousand words… so be careful with the message.

creepies

 

I think that the best example I have seen so far, from a packaging point of view, is what they are doing at SexyFood i Paris. They are using the good old food can but smarting it up with a label that communicates luxury and gourmet food. Black is the colour and some gold added for effect. No illustrations of the worms, crickets and bugs you will find inside. They are even playing down the content by naming their products with numbers rather than names. Stewed worms with added cockroach or number 9. Which sounds better?

I don’t think their products yet has made a big difference but they do show the way when it comes to packaging design. Use the power of packaging, but aim before firing.

creepies2

 

 

Making stupid packaging smart…?

A bar code reader is not quite breaking news but it can still be used in interesting ways. I think that already in the early 90-ies that Electrolux had a concept fridge where bar codes were scanned and the fridge content was updated and made available. The result could be used for inventory (first in, still here?), cooking or shopping lists.

HikuHiku wants to support your supermarket experience by making the tedious preparing of the shopping list a bit more swift. Now this is an app that reads the bar codes of your empties at home and translates to product names to add to your list. This doesn’t make the packaging smarter but it makes smart use of packaging. This must be second best and is not a bad idea when you think of it. There are so many brilliant concepts and ideas for smart and intelligent packaging out there. Very few of them actually happen. There are many obstacles, cost is one. Then this could prove to be an example of a way to smarten up packaging by introducing and using parallel tools that adds functionality to products. It could even be that you empty the content from a pack into a jar or similar with a built in function. It can be an actual best-before-use time/temperature indicator or anything really. You would avoid the unit cost aspect as you can use my imaginary jar over and over again.

Another app using the barcode in an interesting way is recently introduced by EWG under Ewgthe name Food Scores. This is a bit more controversial as they have rated 80,000 food and beverage products according to what’s inside the stuff. You can with the app scan a product and get, via a very neat interface, a rather detailed analysis of the content and a number between 1 and 10. This might sound all good but is in my view a highly debatable approach. I think you risk over simplifying and worrying people for no reason. There are many ingredients that might sound more harmful than they actually are and then there are several ingredients that are uncertain and hard to classify.

Always remember that in an apple you will naturally find 9 E-numbers, all “added” by nature…

 

 

 

Stop telling people what you don’t do. Tell them what you do!

GSIPeople need to be prompted. You can’t expect consumers to spontaneously demand specifics but they will certainly react to what’s put on display. This is a general statement but it is very much a fact that comes to packaging and what message you choose to convey. What I am thinking of is that you often see products that state they are free from fat, gluten, preservatives and sugar with less salt and not that many carbs.

Tell them instead what the product contains. That you have used the best raw materials that you could find and that you have treated the stuff carefully and according to the regulations.

This will over time build up consumer trust and loyalty. A packaging copy and design opportunity.

Sip a drip

EdiblePack2

The latest in edible packaging I think is the “water blob” from Ooho. A compound made from brown algae and calcium chloride creates a portion package or a gel sphere around a mouthful of water. A drip sip. It is cool, innovative and thought provoking right out of the bottle. Just swig a blob when dry.

A similar solution comes from Wikipearl who promise to enfold both food and beverages in bite-sized and portable spheres or blobs. All ready for on-the-go eating or drinking. It is just as cool and pioneering as Ooho. Wikipearl is one step ahead and will soon go commercial at selected Whole Foods. I am interested to see how they solve the obvious secondary packaging challenge. You will always need some kind of protective packaging around the fragile balls of liquid to avoid flooded glove compartments and handbags.

The Ooho team are even encouraging consumers to make their own edible packaging blobs. Instructions are provided and we can all make our own packaging-free portable picnic.

If you combine this with the idea of 3D printing of food we can all be independent producing consumers.