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Features of IoT Connected Smart Products & Packaging

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Think back to the last product you consumed!

Maybe it was a pack of orange juice or a loaf of bread. What did you do when it reached its shelf life? You probably read some of the information it was able to hold and then tossed it into the bin.

Traditional packaging for products have had a limited role until this point but with the emergence of IoT, there’s an opportunity for products and packaging to play a larger role and do more.

Smart Packaging or Smart Products which are assigned internet ID’s can play a much bigger role in how consumers engage with their everyday products and how brands make this happen. Once digitally activated, these smart products then start communicating with the consumers.

Here are some of the features that can be activated on Smart Products or Smart Packaging :

1. Authentication: A winning characteristic of smart packaging starts with authenticating the product. Prior to purchasing, consumers need to make sure the product is genuine.

A lot of apparel brands, like, MK, Channel, Louis Vuitton and Levi’s are already capitalizing on this opportunity to fight counterfeiting. Other companies are enabling these brands to do so by integrating their microchips in apparels. Hovering a smartphone in front of microchips-embedded clothes can verify their authenticity.  The same can be done via QR codes and scannable data matrix.

2. Open Sensors: This is an important packaging characteristic to identify whether a product has previously been tampered with. Like, using ‘connected’ NFC bottles featuring Thinfilm, Johnnie Walker established their originality and usability readiness. Via NFC connected sensors, consumers can scan the labels with their phones, which instantly signals if the product is ‘open’ or ‘closed’. A great example of deepening customer’s product experience while ensuring the originality of the product’s seal.

(Image Source: ThinFilm)

3. Track and Trace: Since Smart Products maintain a digital record of themselves on the internet, each product SKU or serial level item can also maintain a log of the different locations and entities it has changed hands at as well as a log of activities carried out on the journey to the end consumer. These track and trace logs can be activated off of the packaging by anyone who wants to trace back that journey through the lifecycle of the product.

4. Temperature Sensors: Easily perishable products, especially certain CPGs, require being stored at specific temperatures. Specially developed NFC stickers with temperature sensors are now available for packaging. Consumers can tap the product packaging with their NFC enabled phones to identify whether the optimum temperature is maintained. It also helps them to identify situations which are deterrent to maintaining a product’s ideal temperature and subsequently act on it.

5. Best Before Warnings: Smart packaging can significantly improve the date label instructions by providing a clear picture to customers. To curb food waste and make consumption more transparent, date labels must communicate trigger warnings to customers in a concise manner. The FMI-GMA food label initiative is an example of how packaging information connects with the end consumer. Streamlining and standardizing the wording accompanying the date labels on packages offers greater clarity regarding the quality and safety of products. Including ‘Best if Used By’ and ‘Use By’ on smart packaging labels and further allowing products to communicate this information directly to the customer will make sure the product is consumed in its due time.

(Image Source: FMI)

6. Reordering Action:  Smart products must be able to reorder themselves or help customers do so by connecting with shelf stock data or providing triggers on the packaging the customer can use to scan and instantly re-order a product. By identifying the quantity levels, smart products can either trigger reorders or to help consumers quickly place the next lot of orders for the same product they are running out of.

7. Digital E-Labels:  Smart packaging empowers customers to pull any information on the digital E-labels, which can be accessed anywhere at any given point in time. These include all the content and information about the product, which may exist in the form of documents, certificates, videos or images. Building interactive packaging labels for products can trigger these experiences. For instance, scanning the digital E-Label for a pasta brand can prompt customizable interactive videos and pasta recipes on its app.

8. Real-Time Offers: Smart Packaging gives consumers the flexibility to edit information or dynamically change content delivered in real-time. It allows manufacturers, brands, and retailers to update and upsell relevant offers on the particular product. Say, for instance, a wine brand wants to inform its customer about the 1+1 promo offer on one of its products, which is only valid for 24 hours.  With smart packaging, brands can proposition variable pricing and offers in real time by letting smart products communicate this to the consumer.

Such smart packaging solutions make the customer experience more interactive with the ‘connected’ and smart packaging. Smart products and labelling is a wide-open field with a plethora of applications aimed to refine the customer experience as well as a brand’s presence around its products.

posted May 24, 2018 by Sarang Pharate

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According to the estimates of World Health Organisation (WHO), 1 million people globally lose their lives due to falsified medicines. It is the most lucrative of all counterfeiting businesses, netting in  150-200 billion euros per year. In order to put a stop to this trend, the EU introduced a scheme, which went live on 9 February 2019, for the identification and serialisation of individual packs of medicine. The serialisation scheme has been initiated under the EU’s Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD) of 2011 in an effort to fight counterfeiting of drugs through regulation (1) which was issued in 2016 and establishes safety features for packaging on medical products and devices. The primary focus for the regulation was that all packaging on pharmaceutical products need to carry a unique identifier for individual packs or boxes.

This is an example of how packaging can do much more than their traditional roles of dispensing product information and protecting the contents from external environmental conditions like changes in temperature and moisture. With the EU defining standards for serialisation of pharmaceutical packaging, there is an opportunity for the industry to go a step further and use this serial item identifier to exchange more information via smart packaging and IoT connected smart products. The serialised identifier and data matrix code on the packaging can be used to power other innovative digital interactions and applications. Here, we will take a look at some extended applications for product serialisation and smart packaging that can help brands, manufacturers and consumers alike.

Supply Chain Integrity

Product serialisation on batch and individual levels offers more than just compliance to regulations. When combined with digital twins, it is an excellent means to keep track of all supply chain operations, track and trace data and more. Serialisation will involve establishing a unique identification for each individual pack of medicine and communicate the same to all participants down the supply chain. A digital twin works in a similar fashion, maintaining a unique identity and an associated digital record of each product throughout its lifecycle. This means that manufacturers can access information regarding products more quickly, including their associated distribution records, and easily track a product to the source during any product holds or recall situation.

Smart packaging will not just involve the upgrading of all packaging, but dedicated investments into a data aggregation system and software solutions in order to identify, maintain and connect serialised numbers and label content to the aggregator. These investments are an opportunity for brands and manufacturers to develop and implement smart packaging solutions for their pharmaceutical products as well as enjoy simpler, more transparent and cost-effective supply chains and stock control.

Interactive Packaging For Safer Medical Practices

Product serialisation and smart packaging can go beyond enhancing supply chain operations. They can transform the way healthcare professionals and patients interact with their medicines and medical devices. Smart packaging with digital labels on them, that can be scanned by smartphones and other similar devices, can contribute immensely to better health literacy and patient compliance. It is estimated that non-adherence to medication annually costs the EU 125 billion euros and causes 200,000 deaths.

A product’s digital twin can easily store relevant information without any space limitations, information which is easily accessible through a smartphone app. This information can range from dosage, expiry dates, number of tablets left, reminders to take medicine and additional instructions from doctors to detailed and easy to understand IFUs. It can also provide an interface for healthcare professionals to remotely update any changes or collect reliable and richer data such as side effects and efficacy of product from patients for research purposes.

We need to think and reinvent how we can extend the abilities of packaging to adapt to future requirements as we see a rise in cases of poor compliance to medication and an ageing population in the developing world. Smart intelligent packaging can bring healthcare professionals and patients closer, promote safer consumption of medicines and improve the overall quality of healthcare and clinical trials.

Combating Counterfeits

The primary reason for the introduction of the mandatory regulation for product serialisation by the EU has been to counter threats to drug integrity due to the vast number of falsified medicines floating in the market. Counterfeit medicines pose a serious public health risk as even a small amount of substandard ingredient in a product can harm or potentially kill a patient. According to the new EU regulation, the unique identifiers should comprise of a product code, a serial number based on a randomised algorithm, a reimbursement number according to the countries which the medicine is marketed in, a batch number and expiry date. These numbers should be encoded into a 2-dimensional barcode within a machine readable data matrix which can be easily and accurately deciphered using simple scanning equipment.  

Similar to this process, a unique identity in the form of a digital twin for each product can also be maintained on the internet. The digital twin stores information pertaining to its authenticity throughout the supply chain, being scanned and verified by each participant, from manufacturer to distributors.

Serialisation and digital twins ensure that each saleable package of medicine is accounted for by all possible participants within a supply chain, allowing stores selling them as well as consumers to verify the authenticity of each individual product.

Infact, tracking data at serial item and batch level can help combat counterfeit products. Smart packaging with expanded abilities can allow consumers to scan and then report counterfeit products, allowing brands to keep an eye on locations and sources for them.

The new regulations for product serialisation and technological advancements together provide an opportunity for brands and manufacturers to upgrade packaging into more than a covering with basic product information for its contents. Apart from adherence to regulations for accountability of individual packs of medication as well as optimized logistics, they open up a wide array of possibilities to deliver delightful and intelligent interactions to consumers. Smart packaging holds the potential to bridge the gap between healthcare professionals and patients. It is the key to making supply chain events more transparent and much more easy to track and trace at all points of action. Extended actions of smart packaging combined with serialisation such as these need not be restricted to just pharmaceutical products. We’re already seeing significant efforts to serialise everyday consumer products such as foods, groceries, cigarettes, cosmetics and more.

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There has been visible development with regards to sustainable trends across the CPG retail industry. While individuals are becoming mindful of their lifestyles and their environmental footprints, brands are starting to take end-to-end accountability of their production habits.

The concept of zero-waste circular economy is also gaining momentum, where the focus is on refining the entire supply-chain for products. This is especially true for the CPG industry. Plastic from packaged goods, that end up in the oceans and seas, is rising at an alarming rate. As per UNEP, more than 8 million tonnes of plastic leaks into the ocean each year – equal to dumping a garbage truck of plastic every minute.

Awareness about these practices has been building for quite some time now, along with the efforts of international organizations to bring to the forefront many adversaries caused due to single-use plastic.  UN’s Clean Seas campaign and National Geographic’s multi-year campaign “Planet or Plastic” have seen worldwide participation so far including efforts from celebrities and zero waste community influencers.  

Although there has been considerable talk and awareness, we are increasingly witnessing some actionable developments in the CPG industry. With advocates, stakeholders and policymakers focusing on banning plastic alternates need to be innovated. Many organizations have tapped into this gap. Brands are innovating interesting ways to market products and their subsequent information to consumers.

Let’s take a look at the evolving face of the CPG industry.

Ditching Plastic, One Packageless Product at a Time

The Zero-Waste Shampoo Bar

Zero Waste Shampoo Bars by Lush Cosmetics (Image Source)

With an aim to serve consumers as well as the planet, Lush cosmetics has innovated package fewer shampoo bars. According to ATTN, these shampoo bars could replace the 552 million shampoo bottles we throw out annually. Each bar is the equivalent of three medium-sized shampoo bottles and serves over 80 washes.

While Lush already has an established brand presence as it caters to both online as well as brick and mortar stores, it is relatively easier for them to connect with their customers and target groups. Information about these packageless shampoo bars available on their website as well as other social media channels including Facebook.

Packageless Water – The Edible Blob

‘Ooho’ Edible Water by Skipping Rocks Labs (Image Source)

The packageless water edible blob is another great example of the growing industry of packageless products. With a goal to create a waste-free alternative to plastic bottles and cups, London based startup Skipping Rocks Labs developed the edible water bottle, Ooho which is 100% degradable and zero-waste.

There has been an interesting shift where more and more brands are ditching the plastic. But this also comes with challenges. The biggest one being, “How do you inform customers about the packageless products they are purchasing”? What about communicating our brand? What about packaging label information?

These are some of the key concerns worrying brands and manufacturers right now but all shifts need out of the box thinking and the concept of packageless and zero waste products is no different. If you can’t put your brand on the actual physical products and can’t use a printed paper-based label to communicate product content to the end consumer, the answer may lie in communicating your brand and product content digitally alongside the packageless product at the point of consideration.

Picture a consumer walking up to a shelf stacked with shampoo bars or edible water blobs at a modern-day high-tech supermarket. They pick up the product and motion sensors detect what they have picked up and pop-ups the brand along with detailed product information on a display screen in front of them before they make their purchase decision and put it in their shopping cart. Alternatively, they pull out their smartphone and scan a QR code on the shelf or tap their NFC enabled smartphones to a shelf NFC tag and consume all that the brand communicates through a digital interaction delivered to their phones.  

Everything that goes on the product’s packaging, including certifications, ingredient information, warnings, manufacturing and expiry details, etc. needs to be effectively communicated as do the manufacturer’s identity and branding. The most important task to enabling these user experiences for packageless products is, first by creating “digital twins” for these packageless products which are accessible over the internet and secondly, by extending their product related information to consumers through these digital identities.

Once that’s done, using their smartphones, customers can activate the information using triggers and devices placed in the aisles inside stores where these products are displayed, which contain the serial number or SKU details of that particular product.  For packageless products, manufacturers can deploy aisle based digital labels and QR codes. This can be made even more interesting with interactive screens to engage customers further inside stores. Once consumers scan these digital labels, it will pull up all the relevant information about the product that’s in front of them without the need for paper labels or plastic packaging.

With brands following a zero-footprint approach, even for packaging and labelling, virtual product information and activating connect smart products becomes imperative for the packageless goods industry.

The movement towards zero-waste packageless products is going to require consumers, manufacturers, brands and the packaging & labelling industry to think creatively out of the box and work together to make the shift towards the future of CPG.

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Automation, smarter systems, and processes are emerging in almost all aspects of CPG retail. With consumer retail technology undergoing dynamic shifts to the digital, everyday objects are turning into smart objects.

Smart Product is a product that maintains information about itself and the context to enable new digital processes and capabilities. Everyday products can become Smart Products by maintaining a digital representation of the product on the internet, through its lifecycle from being manufactured to being consumed.

Smart products uphold a digital record of themselves, which can be updated, edited, manipulated and distributed for multiple use cases by the stakeholders and owners of that product information. Anything from bottles, books, vegetables to T-shirts can be converted into a smart product. These digital “instances” of a physical product can be accessed over the web by mobile devices, web applications, scanners, browsers or other devices with sensors directly connected to the internet themselves.

Smart Products carry and exchange information throughout the product’s lifecycle from the source of its ingredients to its journey through the supply chain, the point of sale right up to the end.

In short, smart products carry a perpetual digital journey of their physical counterparts.

As a result, stakeholders can identify and locate them easily on the entire supply chain. For instance, if a supplier wants to enquire where the raw materials were sourced for a particular ‘smart-product’, they can simply do so by scanning the product and accessing its information in real-time, digitally. Furthermore, the supplier can share that information with the retailer or other parties in a standardized format.

Maintaining a digital record of the product throughout its lifecycle is important for building applications that further allow these products to participate with other entities in the supply chain.

Brands can leverage connected technology to empower these products to start communicating and participating in the Internet of Things.

Once the smart product is established, triggers on the product in the form on QR code, RFID, NFC and sensors along with reading devices, can invoke actions and changes to its digital representation to enable new and innovative digital processes. For instance, once the retailer accesses the information of locating raw materials, he/she can virtually see the product being made or crafted through videos, images or other files. As a result, smart products further deepen the product experience, which in the case of normal products, is quite limited.

When products are not active or not ‘smart’, they can’t contribute to selling, educating the consumer, assisting their journey through the supply chain, improving business processes and efficiency or participating in the entire process from manufacture to consumption.

Technology innovations like the Internet of Things now allow for connecting products that technically cannot connect to the internet by themselves. These products can be extended to the internet via allocating unique identifiers. Technology innovations such as IoT, allow for these smart products to then start communication and participating in the ‘Internet of Products’.

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