Connected Packaging

18/12/2023 | 5 min read
Fabian Grabner

Connected Packaging

A new pair of shoes is just a mouse click away, our fridge makes its own shopping lists and Siri explains the world to us – we’ve clearly arrived in the age of digitalization. A myriad of processes that used to be analogue are now performed with the help of
digital tools – efficiently and often completely automatically. This affects virtually every industry. The packaging industry also benefits from digital processes, and not only when it comes to lean production. Packaging itself is also increasingly becoming
a digital ambassador. 

Packaging used to serve primarily as a medium to transport products safely from A to B. In the digital age, it still fulfills this purpose. Beyond that, however, packaging is becoming an information carrier, brand ambassador and entertainer – “connected packaging” applications are closing the gap between the physical and digital worlds and creating a direct connection between the brand and the consumer. The importance of packaging and the role it plays in the lives of consumers and in the value chain is growing.

Packaging as an information carrier - the expert

Consumers have gotten used to being able to satisfy their need for information any time and anywhere. Knowledge that used to be preserved for future generations in huge tomes is now available at the touch of a button via the internet – and thanks to connected packaging applications, it can also be accessed easily and intuitively via packaging. Consumers can satisfy their thirst for knowledge about allergens, ingredients, or the ecological footprint of products they’re holding right there in the supermarket. Yet new technologies are also playing an increasingly important role when it comes to the disposal of packaging. For example, various apps can provide information on how to dispose of packaging correctly or where to find the nearest waste collection point. This brings both the service concept of companies and consumer demand for product transparency to life – along with a high level of convenience.

Packaging as a brand ambassador – the friend

They know us very well. They know what matters to us in life, how we organize our everyday lives and what plans we have for the future: our friends. With connected packaging technologies, brands can also become part of the consumer’s circle of friends. This is because these applications allow companies to collect data, and thus information, about their customers in real time – What are they interested in? What are their preferences? How is their use of the product changing? This knowledge can flow directly into further product optimization and provides the basis for an even more targeted customer approach. It’s even possible to invite customers for a spontaneous visit – with geo-targeting, brands can selectively reach out to their customers and surprise them with personalized offers.

Packaging that engages the consumer - the entertainer

For consumers, connected packaging opens the door to another world – a world full of fun and personalized experiences. Digital competitions, quizzes, immersion in virtual realities and interactive challenges entice people to get involved. Products benefit from the light-heartedness and positive feelings that entertainment triggers – qualities that reflect on the entire brand experience.
Together with the company Appetite Creative, a pioneer in the field of connected packaging, Greiner Packaging has developed a web app that scores points for its entertainment character while simultaneously performing an educational function. For the 40th anniversary of Greiner Packaging’s successful product K3®, an application was designed that provides consumers with information about cardboard-plastic combinations in a fun way while raising their awareness for the correct separation of packaging.
Customers who would like to enhance their packaging with digital experiences in the future are welcome to contact their Greiner Packaging account manager. The web app can be easily integrated into all common packaging decorations by QR code – from printing, in-mold labelling and sleeves to cardboard-plastic combinations.

Connected Packaging Applications, an overview

Integrating smart labels and sensors into packaging provides consumers with real-time information – for example, about the freshness, temperature or shelf life of food or medicines.

By scanning a QR code embedded directly in the packaging decoration, consumers can instantly access product information, instructions for use, promotional offers and more.

This contactless form of data transmission, which does not require internet access, is used for the contactless payment of small amounts. But it’s also used for packaging – for example, in the form of RFID chips that can provide important information
about a package and its location.

Augmented reality (AR) enables consumers to access 3D models, animations and immersive content in connection with products. Few other technologies merge the physical and digital worlds so seamlessly.

These codes or markings can only be detected and read with special devices or digital technologies. They are embedded directly in the packaging decoration, but are not visible to the naked eye. Examples include UV codes, digital watermarks
and infrared codes.

With touch codes, consumers can access information by briefly touching the packaging with their smartphone. This is made possible through the use of conductive ink on the packaging.

The value chain

It’s not just consumers who benefit from the world of connected packaging. The entire value chain has something to gain from these advantages. Digital technologies for packaging are a true sustainability enabler, especially when it comes to realizing circularity. One good example is the “digital product passport,” which must be introduced across the board by 2030: Information about the packaging is stored on a platform – for example, about the manufacturer of the packaging or the packaging material. This data can be accessed via different carriers and used to ensure an efficient recycling process. Greiner Packaging is working intensively on the use of digital watermarks as part of the HolyGrail 2.0 initiative (under the European Brands Association and supported by the Alliance to End Plastic Waste). They are invisible to the human eye and integrated directly into the decoration of packaging. The initiative’s goal: to prove under real market conditions that digital watermarks can make an important contribution to the proper recycling of packaging in the future. Another cycle is also benefiting from digital networking: reusable packaging. By integrating RFID chips, users can find out at any time where a reusable solution is in the cycle. It can also be
determined how many cycles the packaging has already been through, how many containers are still in the warehouse, or the number of packages that have left the cycle – for example, because consumers have accidentally disposed of them in the rubbish instead of returning them. All the information stored on the chip is read out contactlessly via antennas – within a defined geographical area. Then that information is transmitted to an evaluation unit and processed.

And consumers? Reusable packaging with RFID chips has also proven helpful for them. For example, they can use an interactive map to find the nearest return point or find out how much CO2e has already been saved by the specific reusable packaging compared to a single-use package. Connected packaging is more than just technological progress – it’s a revolution in the way brands and consumers interact. By seamlessly merging the physical and digital worlds, companies can create memorable experiences, build consumer trust, contribute to the circular economy and differentiate their products in a competitive marketplace. As the world evolves, packaging evolves with it. So the next time you unpack a product, remember that there may be more to packaging than meets the eye – it’s the gateway to a world of innovation.

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