Ballantine's pilot program uses RFID tags to track corrugated cases, reusable plastic containers (RPCs) and pallets of peaches and nectarines shipped from its packing facility in Reedley, Calif., to a Wal-Mart distribution center. RFID tagging is not currently mandatory for Ballantine's shipments to Wal-Mart.
Alien Technology Corp. (www.alientechnology.com), Morgan Hill, Calif., supplies Ballantine with passive RFID tags. The tags look like regular labels; however, an RFID chip is attached to the back of each label. According to Silva, the first batch of tags his company purchased cost 40 cents each.
The cost of RFID tags has hindered the use of the technology on primary packaging for food and other low-margin, mass-market products. However, prices are coming down.
"For food packaging, RFID tags are probably three to five years away," says Michael Sheriff, president and CEO of AirGate Technologies (www.airgatetech.com), Allen, Texas. "It depends on the price of tags getting down to where they can do item-level tagging. The holy grail is to get the cost to under five cents per tag, but that's a challenge."
RFID technology also holds security and safety benefits for wineries, distilleries and non-alcoholic beverage producers. RFID can be used to keep track of where all packaging supplies originate, including bottles, cans, closures, labels, cartons, shrink wrap and adhesive.
"What if there were chipped glass? If there was a lawsuit against a winery, it would have a full-on record of where that glass came from," says Kris Curran, the winemaker at Sea Smoke Cellars winery (www.seasmokecellars.com), Lompoc, Calif. Thus, the technology is positioned to meet the business needs of food and beverage producers while at the same time helping them meet the track-and-trace requirements of the Bioterrorism Act.
Currently, Sea Smoke uses an RFID-based system from TagStream Inc. (www.tagstreaminc.com), Goleta, Calif., to track its barrels and to enhance wine making by streamlining data collection.
For now the RFID tags are only on the winery's barrels, but it plans to tag its tanks and the bins used to harvest grapes. "It just makes it easier to follow things through. It's so much easier to have all the information on a computer system," Curran says. Before switching to the RFID system, Sea Smoke used the time-honored method of handwritten notes to track barrels and the fermentation process.
NOTE TO MARKETING
Although many sophisticated anti-counterfeiting technologies are available for food packaging, the container's shape and decoration also can play an important role in securing a brand against knock-offs.
For Abbott's nutritional products, "Our increasing use of plastic packaging with unique designs that are difficult and costly to reproduce provide one level of counterfeit protection," says Abbott's Doug Frazier.
The company also embosses codes on steel can ends to deter counterfeiting. This method offers the additional benefit of deterring fraud associated with altered expiration dates.
Trimspa Inc. (www.trimspa.com), Whippany, N.J., also uses package shape and decoration to thwart counterfeiting of its diet aids and nutritional supplements. Trimspa's package is a seamless aluminum bottle. A portion of the Trimspa logo on the bottle is debossed. Further, the bottle is lithographically printed with an intricate pattern that incorporates a monochrome photographic image.
The bottle also incorporates multiple levels of tamper evidence. Pressure-sensitive film seals the mouth of the bottle, and a shrink band covers the neck and closure. CCL Container (www.cclcontainer.com), Hermitage, Pa., created the Trimspa package.
For any marketer of consumables, the public is the last line of defense against fakes. "Our customers tend to be very observant of changes to our packaging and are a valuable resource in helping to identifying counterfeiters," Frazier says.