Tomorrow’s packaging will involve sensory elements

By Alyson Magee

- Last updated on GMT

New sensory shores of food and drink packaging is on the horizon
New sensory shores of food and drink packaging is on the horizon

Related tags Packaging

The next generation of intelligent packaging could allow brand owners to give consumers totally new sensory experiences, Alyson Magee discovers

Key points

Intelligent innovation is elevating the sensory experience of food and drink packaging, although practical and environmental considerations can make its execution challenging.

Manufacturers and designers are increasingly tapping into emotional levers, from shape to sound, to standout in a crowded marketplace. But the added costs involved, together with legislative requirements, such as labelling regulations and the need to reduce waste, are inhibiting progress.

“There has been an explosion of new packaging shapes and formats,”​ says Professor Charles Spence, head of the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at Oxford University, which studies the integration of information across the senses.

“A decade ago I was telling companies about the benefits of creating signature packaging shapes,”​ says Spence. “But they would say, ‘great idea; too expensive’,”​ However, manufacturers have since become more open to experimentation, he adds. “The fact that any walk down the supermarket aisle shows so many new packaging shapes being tried out be it deodorants or soft drinks implies that the price has now come down significantly in the last few years.”

Retail theatre (Return to top)

Mark Ryan, innovation manager of TRM Packaging, says: “Businesses are tapping into the role packaging plays in retail theatre and shelf presence as part of a brand’s marketing mix.”​ A manufacturer and supplier of retail-ready packaging to the food, drink and fast moving consumer goods markets, TRM’s clients include Tesco, White & MacKay and SK Chilled.

“The role of packaging in ‘shopper marketing’ is being more comprehensively understood by brands,”​ he says. “A product’s packaging is the only thing that a brand has complete control over in-store, and it also stands alone as the only piece of marketing material that all of the customers who purchase a product will see. With this in mind, it is more important than ever that packaging not only stands out on the shelf to catch consumers’ attention, but follows this up by conveying brand values and making the shopping experience enjoyable.”

Spence identifies a current attention-grabbing trend as product categories use the image mould of another. “You see olive oils being sold in bottles that look like perfume bottles; wines sold in bottles that look like olive oil bottles; and vodka and beer sold in champagne corked bottles,”​ he says. “I am also seeing some really innovative new packaging shapes – I love, for example, the bottle in which POM pomegranate juice comes. I believe that there is a lot more innovation to come there.”

Beyond format, innovation is coming from sound and visuals, says Spence. “I think that there is so much untapped potential in the sound of packaging,”​ he says, highlighting the differentiation Snapple has created for itself in the drinks market with its distinctive opening pop. “I believe that, in a few years, we are going to look back and think how bizarre it was that every can of carbonated drink sounded identical on opening. Companies spend so much on their distinctive visual designs and logos. Why not think about having a signature sound too?”

Signature sounds (Return to top)

Examples range from Dairylea's special packs emitting a mooing sound upon opening to smart phone apps using on-pack quick response (QR) codes to link with interactive media. Häagen-Dazs, for example, introduced a Concerto App allowing consumers to enjoy a two-minute performance, ‘just enough time for your ice cream to soften, so you can better experience the rich and creamy flavour of our world-class ingredients’.

“Technology such as QR codes on product labelling will allow retailers to provide greater transparency of information than is possible to display on the product packaging,”​ says Nick Martin, senior vice president at Trace One, which supplies packaging portal software helping retailers manage and develop product lines.

And digital printing offers further opportunity for standout. “There’s a lot of noise being made around large-scale digital printing, and there’s no doubt that the technology will eventually get to a point where current production requirements can be met,”​ says Ryan. “For the food and drink sector, the benefits will be significant as shortened production and lead times will give brands and manufacturers greater ordering flexibility.

“In the immediate future, customer engagement and interactivity are areas that the packaging industry should keep a close eye on. Promotional coding, augmented reality and dynamic inks are just a few technologies which are being increasingly leveraged to engage with customers and build brand loyalty. There is also some scope for the wider application of nanotechnology in the packaging sector.”

For Spence: “I am excited by printable electronics and the potential that offers. So far, we have seen just a few examples, often from limited edition spirits bottles, but a more widespread uptake of packaging that beeps, flashes, plays music, etc, seems imminent.”

Offering a reality check to the whistles, bells and high impact visuals, meanwhile, are the practical aspects of packaging from creating fit-for-purpose protection to compliance with labelling regulations.

Pera Technology works with the European Commission to develop new products and processes for the EU packaging sector, as well as with private packaging manufacturers. “On a European economic level there are a number of factors driving innovation. However, broadly speaking, the top considerations are maintaining cost competitiveness against lower cost manufacturing centres, reducing waste and improving environmental practices,”​ says Steve Ryley, competency manager for Chemistry & Biotechnology at Pera Technology.

Drivers remain the same (Return to top)

“For the businesses we work for, the drivers are largely the same with the addition that they are also looking to develop their own intellectual property in order to strengthen sales and provide new offerings to clients. There is also the commercial marketing driver of helping their customers’ products stand out on the supermarket shelf.”

For TRM Packaging: “The impact of the product on-shelf has to be coupled with efficiency through the supply chain which continues to be a major cog in the packaging development machine,”​ says Ryan. “There are always savings to be made – better performing and lighter papers reduce transport costs and product loss as does better designed packaging that is more robust through the supply chain. Retailer demands for in-store efficiency and optimal stock visibility and stock replenishment are also vital drivers in the industry and packaging designers need to consider this.”

Trace One identifies the increasingly complex labelling demands, such as the new EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation coming into force on December 13, which requires additional allergy, nutrient and energy value information on packaging.

Greener packaging (Return to top)

Pressure also continues for manufacturers to use greener packaging, which creates its own challenges. “Many companies are being told by government, etc, to lightweight their packaging,”​ says Spence. “In the case of food and drink packaging, this can cause a problem since people tend to like foods and beverages more when consumed from heavier packaging. Hence one active area of research is to try to figure out if there are any psychological tricks you can play with packaging to make it seem heavier, even if it isn’t actually heavier.”

Sustainable innovation includes The PlantPack Project, a consortium of seven partners coordinated by the Paint Research Association, which is developing a new natural spray coating based on starch and seaweed which is biodegradable and recyclable.

Pera Technology is involved in PlantPack, as well as other projects such as ISA-Pack, which aims to develop biodegradable food packaging and improve the shelf-life of meat products by as much as 50%, and Polymark, a food container marking and identification system to enable sorting during recycling. However, Flexico, a manufacturer of resealable, flexible packaging, claims plastic packaging is still the best solution to increase shelf-life and reduce food waste.

But keeping ahead of the curve is vital, says Martin at Trade One. “There is only a small window of time while a packaging design is ‘innovative’ before a competitor beats you to the punch and it becomes old hat,”​ he says.

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