Smart Packaging Turns Science Fiction into Fact

Smart and active packages deliver entertainment, information and an improved product experience.

By Kate Bertrand Connolly, Packaging Editor

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Haagen Dazs ConcertoNew approaches to intelligent and active packaging are altering consumers’ experience of food products, adding interactivity to some and increasing palatability for others.

Definitions of intelligent (or smart) and active packaging abound. For the purposes of this article, “smart packaging” interacts with consumers — via smartphone, for instance. “Active packaging,” on the other hand, interacts with its own internal or external environment. In-pack odor-absorbing patches are in this camp.

Smart and active packages are finding a home in many product categories for applications ranging from the seriously fun to the decidedly serious. A fun and functional example comes from the Häagen-Dazs brand, which offers the Häagen-Dazs Concerto Timer app and companion packaging for all of its 14-oz. cartons of ice cream.

After downloading the free app, the consumer points an iPhone at the top of the Häagen-Dazs carton and — through the magic of augmented-reality technology — a tiny, ethereal violinist appears and plays Bach Inventions No. 14. The little concert is on your smartphone, but if you hold the phone just right, it appears to be on top of your ice cream carton. The interlude lasts for two minutes, which is just the right amount of time to let the ice cream soften before serving.

“The whole idea [for] the app came from our consumers," says Joy Richardson, marketing associate for Häagen-Dazs at Nestlé USA, Glendale, Calif. "A lot of Häagen-Dazs fans know that when they take out Häagen-Dazs from their freezer, it’s really cold and dense. That’s due to the high quality of the ice cream.” Within the U.S., the Häagen-Dazs trademark is licensed to Nestlé by brand owner General Mills.

“When you allow the ice cream to sit, or what we call ‘temper,’ for a rest of two minutes, it allows the flavors and texture to bloom,” she adds. “You get a much better eating experience once you let that ice cream temper a bit.”

If the consumer is tempering more than one carton of the ice cream at a time, an expanded version of the augmented-reality experience can be created. Pointing an app-enabled iPhone at the first carton makes the violinist appear, and pointing it at a second carton makes a cellist emerge.

“The two performances are separate; however, they meld together beautifully,” Richardson says. “We chose augmented-reality technology due to its uniqueness and the high level of engagement,” she adds. The technology provides consumers with “a cutting-edge, 3D type of experience.”

To sweeten the deal, so to speak, the brand also is donating $5 for every app download to honey bee research at the University of California at Davis (up to a $75,000 donation, in total).
The brand’s ad agency of record, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners San Francisco, worked digital production company Jam3, Toronto, to create the Häagen-Dazs Concerto Timer app.

Allergen info via QR code

Zego Nutrtion PanelFor Zego, San Francisco, smart packaging has a more serious purpose. The company recently began providing consumers with batch-specific allergen data via quick-response (QR) codes on product wrappers and boxes. The company, a start-up, manufactures and markets allergy-friendly energy bars made from organic sunflower seeds.

Although Zego’s product formulation is free of the eight major food allergens — such as soy, nuts, dairy and gluten — the bars are made in a shared facility, so the possibility of cross contamination is possible.

Therefore, the company has the University of Nebraska’s Food Allergen Research and Resource Project test a sample from each batch of Zego bars to verify that they meet the FDA’s gluten-free guidelines and to measure peanut, soy, almond and dairy residue (if any) in the product.

The QR code is printed on the back of each wrapper, under the nutrition facts panel. Scanning the code with a smartphone gives consumers access to that batch’s allergen test results as well as a way to communicate directly with the company.

Zego QR badge“Consumers can tell us what they are wanting to know about the product,” says Colleen Kavanagh, Zego CEO and co-founder. For example, after scanning the code, “they can actually click on the email link and say, ‘Hey, could you let me know about pistachios?’ or other ingredients that are not on the list of allergens that were tested for.

“We’re not saying that we can guarantee that our product is safe for anyone, but we can give you a lot more information than you’re used to having, which will help you make a better-informed decision,” Kavanagh continues. “This is the kind of information that consumers should have at their fingertips, whether it’s for themselves or their kids.”

Regarding processor allergen testing and consumer access to the test results, she adds, “We really would like it to catch on like wildfire and have consumers start to accept it and demand it of manufacturers. Imagine a landscape where a mother could be shopping, and she could scan [a package and] pull up the allergen test results right then and there.”

School teachers and other intermediaries also can use the on-pack QR code to make sure the product is appropriate for distribution to their constituencies.

Underlying each of these scenarios is fast, easy access to the allergen information. “You have to make it really convenient,” Kavanagh says. “I could say go to my website and look it up, [but] that’s not useful.”

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