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.

Online growth and packaging reconsidered

A new and purpose-made design can involve minimising size and weight, leading to concentrates and container reuse.

2019 looks like another big step forward for e-commerce, across categories. The final statistics might not quite in yet and the growth rates might not be as huge as a few years ago but the share of all retail is definitely growing, with consequences for the entire value chain.

One estimation is that, globally, the total growth of e-commerce in 2019 was 21% taking the online share of total retail sales up to a staggering 14%. The numbers vary strongly between categories and we are looking forward for the dust to settle and to get the final numbers for 2019.

As brand owner you respond to this shift in purchase patterns and adjust the offer, products and packaging to online shopping. One main consequence from a packaging/logistics point of view is that products are no longer shipped neatly stacked on pallets protected by secondary packaging.

Online shopping means the opposite for a shipped product. It could be sent alone to be delivered at a doorstep or be dispatched together with random products to a pick-up point, probably both. In any case the product will need more protection than the standard primary packaging can provide.

The situation is improved either by adding more and protective packaging, changing material from glass to plastic or why not design the packaging and product for e-commerce, or omnichannel, from the beginning.

A new and purpose-made design can involve minimising size and weight, leading to concentrates and container reuse.

Unilever has decided to make all their plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. To get there they are, among other things, offering shoppers refillable containers. This also works well for online shopping where the smaller sized refill units are saving weight and cost.
Cif household cleaning products are offered as concentrated refill capsules for the original spray bottle. Just add water and hey presto the product is ready for use. Unilever is also part of the Loop initiative where a whole range of products are offered online in refillable containers.


Another similar product concept from a leading brand owner is Pepsico’s Drinkfinity, also an example of a concentrated product sold in shipping friendly containers. The concept consists of juice-based pods and a reusable water bottle. Just add some H2O. This is probably also a move to meet a shift in consumer demand for more healthy products. Nevertheless Drinkfinity was launched online where the product has an e-commerce site of its own, just like any other direct-to-consumer brand.


Perso is a L’Oreal concept that takes this a step further. Perso is a device that actually makes personalised skincare products for you, in your home, and is powered by Artificial Intelligence. From the three cartridges contained in the machine it makes unique skincare, lipstick and foundation products, just for you. All personalised as you have fed the thing with pictures of yourself, location and your preferences. This is what you can call reusable and smart packaging.

The concept of concentrated, space saving, light weight products has many positive sides. It saves cost, it is a great way to streamline online sales logistics and maybe it even gives the consumer the satisfaction of a “homemade” product.

We'll meet again – return to reusable packaging?

The mantra in the packaging industry has for some time been Recycle, Reduce, Reuse. Recycling material is great when there is a demand for the recovered material and reduced use of material is good for both the environment and the budget. Reusable packaging is more complicated in many ways, in particular for food products.

The reuse concept has developed since the olden days of refillable glass bottles and today has an appeal also as an alternative to Single Use Plastics items for the foodservice industry and has a potential to improve environmental footprints for the e-commerce industry. It can also be a great marketing tool for food and beverage brand owners and a way to reach specific consumer groups.
Below a few examples of reusable packaging spotted along the way.

Food service

Hot drink cups with a deposit are now available in several cafés and restaurant, although in a small scale, where you pay up an extra dollar, pound or euro for your coffee, which then is returned when the container is returned at the bar.

Australian Returnr is taking the concept one step further when offering a series of foodservice containers. Not only cups but a whole range of reusable cups, bowls and lids that are designed for multiple use and also for takeaway. The aim is to support cafes and restaurants to eliminate single-use takeaway packaging. Returnr cups and bowls are, in Australia, free to borrow from cafes and restaurants with a $6 deposit. The deposit can then be claimed back from any restaurant who are working with Returnr. Something that attracts not only local cafés and restaurants but also Deliveroo who are offering Returnrs containers to their customers.

E-commerce

E-commerce as such is developing very fast but is from a packaging point of view there is plenty of room for new ideas.

RePack is an example of this. RePack is a packaging solution made specifically for e-commerce. It is a resealable and durable plastic bag in varying sizes that close with a zipper. It is unique though as it is made for reuse and linked to a deposit system. The reusable packaging itself is made from recycled materials and is space efficient in that it is flexible and adjustable to minimise air, saving money and resources. When the consumer receives the delivery, they return the now empty bag that is designed to fold back into letter size which simply is dropped in the nearest mailbox. The consumer incentive lies in the refund that comes as a discount on the next purchase. Back at RePack’s logistics hub the bag is cleaned and sent out to be used again.

Food and bev brand owners

Online grocery shopping is also growing very fast albeit from a small base and has some catching up to do compared to other segments. One significant example of new thinking is from Loop who promote reusable packaging for grocery and personal care products.

Loop is an interesting grocery e-commerce concept including a deposit-based refillable packaging scheme. It starts when a consumer order a home delivery where the Loop products arrive in a bespoke crate. With the following doorstep delivery of Loop products the empties are then picked up and returned for reuse. The packaging used is bespoke and made to be returned, cleaned and refilled. Materials used are metal, glass and plastic. Leading FMCG producers like Unilever, P&G and Nestlé have joint forces with TerraCycle an American recycling company to organise the Loop model. It’s in use in North America and in Europe the system is, at present, used by Tesco in the UK and by Carrefour in France.

Reusing containers is intuitively a good thing to do but the entire operation has to be considered, from start to landing. More transportation is usually needed, washing and rinsing using detergents and more material is normally used. When it comes to packaging it is never going to be simple but packaging reuse is definitely a path to explore. Looking forward to following the developments.

It’s the season for Packaging Trends!

Towards the end of any year we have an avalanche of Packaging Trends and annual summaries coming in through the mailbox. Then at the end of a decade the number of summaries is doubled as we get both the Greatest Hits from 2019 and Top of the Pops from the last 10 years.

Please misunderstand me correctly, I like lists like everybody else, it’s just that the structure doesn’t necessary bring more clarity. The industry is wide and diverse and it’s hard to find the distinct trends, without obvious and significant contradictions.

First of all it’s not easy to define trends that are so general that they cover the industry, but yet specific enough to be interesting. The packaging industry is a complex one with many examples of conflicting developments and where few lines point in one and the same direction. Some are for example moving from plastics for sustainability reasons, at the same time others are moving into plastics to minimise greenhouse gasses. All depending on perspective.

The below are examples of real trends that are happening right now and are both general and specific enough but even so containing contradictions.


Plastics We can conclude that the main trend is towards using less plastics. There is clearly an increased demand for no-plastic, less-plastic, some-plastic and bio-plastic solutions. The reasons vary and are unfortunately not always fact based. The trend has got quite some media coverage and the SUP directive was recently voted through in the European Parliament to be implemented already in 2021. This is leading to intense activity to find viable alternatives to single use plastic items.

At the same time Amazon makes a shift from fibre-based shippers to plastic bags. A decision that could inspire and set a trend for the rest of the industry. Amazon refers to environmental benefits to back the decision, reduced consumption of energy and natural resources during production, reduced CO2 emissions, and fewer vehicles required during transportation.


Less Packaging The general trend is in one way towards using thinner material and less material, to save both the environment and cost. Some consumers are loudly demanding less packaging, but consumers are also increasingly shopping online.

E-commerce is fast growing on a global scale and is bringing on change for all involved in FMCG trading. One of these changes is that products are often distributed as single units or in combination with random other products. As opposed to traditional retailing when products are safely sent around in a tray or case sitting on a pallet. The result is that products in general needs more and protective packaging to arrive safely to destination.


Recyclable Or reusable or refillable or returnable, or even compostable…? We are certain that we want more recyclable packaging to be used. But first of all, we need the infrastructure to collect, handle and recycle the used packaging. Then it is really up to the individual consumer to use the system.

An alternative to throw away packaging waste is to return and refill the emptied packaging. Just like in the old days and Loop is a new concept on this path. Here a few of the leading global food and beverage manufacturers are joining forces with global recycling organization TerraCycle to create a circular shopping platform. 

Consumers order products that get delivered in a shipping tote instead of a box. Goods arrive in durable, reusable or fully recyclable packaging made from materials such as alloys, glass, and engineered plastics. Once the products are used, customers place empties back into the tote, schedule a free pick-up, and the system makes sure the products get automatically replenished. Brilliant.

Packaging is a traditional industry, that needs fresh ideas. In contradicting times, in particular, you need a steady stream of fresh ideas. Standing still is probably the worst option.

So, I wish you all a very happy and fast moving 2020.

From snack to pack – full circle

Material is central for packaging. Packaging research is a good deal about materials where new sources are constantly explored. Renewable sources like corn, wheat, pine trees, shrimp shells and many more are explored for polymeric qualities. This is an exciting field of research with a promising outlook and an industry looking for renewable alternatives.

MarsGerben Stouten at Delft Technical University has taken this one step further. He has found a microorganism that purifies water, and makes bioplastic in the process. He is using waste water from a Mars plant to feed bacteria that can be used to make bioplastic and at the same time the process purifies the water. This result could actually be used to wrap a Mars bar. Brilliant.

http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2015/05/start/water-from-waste

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.

The power of packaging

Packaging Design

CigI am thinking of the idea of using legislation to control consumer packaging decoration. The power of packaging design has to be restrained to make a product less attractive and hold the consumers back. I am of course referring to tobacco and the ongoing discussions about neutralising the design of the entire category. This says a lot about the power of packaging and of and how graphical design communicates. Australia was first out and this is at present also discussed in Europe.

Packaging PatentsPod

Tread carefully when making packaging design decisions. Nestlé is in court meeting a producer of coffee capsules made to work with Nespresso machines. The argument is about the design of the capsules and the functionality of the machines. Without going into details, it’s again about the inherent power of packaging to make or break. This time a little bit of diplomacy probably would have smoothed things a bit. Playing with packaging is playing with fire.

Packaging Changes

GladPeople apparently care and react to what they think is not quite right, also when it comes to packaging. Glad Wrap has been forced to rework their new packaging design after an uproar of public backlash from unhappy customers. Their mistake was to move the cutter from the base of the box to inside the lid. Shock horror. The consumers didn’t like the change and let Glad know, they got the message and changed things back to “normal”.

Packaging matters and design is over again proving to be a powerful tool.