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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Active packaging gets busy

Various approaches to active packaging, including antimicrobial and oxygen-scavenging films and packages that breathe, are not new. But new twists continue to emerge in support of nascent product concepts and packaging applications.

So-called snack eggs from The Original Egg Co., Staffordshire, U.K., illustrate the point. Each egg package contains an odor-absorbing patch to keep smells from building up inside the pouch, which contains a single shelled, hard-boiled egg. The Original Egg Co. is a business unit of U.K. egg producer and packer Stonegate, which specializes in free-range and organic eggs.

It was, in fact, the odor-absorbing patch that made individually packaged snack eggs commercially viable. Initially, the brand owner tried packaging the eggs in a pouch that did not have odor-absorbing properties.

Sirane Snack Egg“The problem, of course, with eggs is you do get a very strong … sulfurous odor. So much so that it was actually putting the consumers off. They weren’t buying it,” recalls Simon Balderson, managing director of Sirane Group, Shropshire, U.K., which supplies the odor-absorbing patch now used by The Original Egg Co.

He adds that in retail trials the initial package “was rejected for that reason — because of the odor. So they went back to the drawing board.” After a package redesign to conquer the problem, the product launched successfully in the United Kingdom at retailer Waitrose, Berkshire, U.K.

Like the old package, the new one is a flow-wrapped pouch. The odor-absorbing patch is integrated into the automated packaging operation, with a label applicator applying the patches to the film as it feeds into the flow wrapper. Thus each pouch that comes off the line is equipped with an internal patch.

Thanks at least in part to the patch, the on-the-go snack is “doing extremely well,” Balderson says. “You can open it up in the office, and you don’t have to worry about the smell.”

A variant of this odor-absorbing technology is used in meat packaging to eradicate odors that develop inside vacuum packs of beef, lamb, pork and poultry. In those instances, the technology is combined with a moisture-absorbing pad.

Sirane developed odor-absorbing pads for meat on behalf of Asda, West Yorkshire, U.K. The British retailer had been experiencing an unacceptably high level of returns of vacuum-packed meat, because of what the product smelled like when consumers opened the packages.Sirane odor and liquid absorbing pad

“There’s a thing called confinement odor … which is a very strong smell that you get when you open a vacuum pack that’s had meat in it,” Balderson says, explaining that the odor develops when meat is held in an anaerobic environment. It’s a “stagnant, sour smell. It’s very unpleasant, and people were opening the packaging, thinking the meat was off and then taking it back to the store. [But] there was nothing wrong with the meat.”

To test the efficacy of the odor-absorbing pads in vacuum packs, Asda performed a one-million-package trial. The return rate was so low the retailer “then adopted [the technology] in every vacuum pack, and they tell all of their suppliers now to use it in all of the vacuum packaging,” Balderson says.

Fun factor

Yoplait GoGurt Descpicable Me PouchIn contrast to the quietly functional snack-egg package, a recent Yoplait Go-Gurt pouch used thermochromic technology to add kid-friendliness and interactivity to packaging. The stick pack, which was a limited-time promotional package, was decorated with a character from the Pixar movie “Despicable Me 2.”

The pouch is printed with thermochromic (color-shifting) inks that make the “minion” character change from purple, when refrigerated, to yellow as the product warms up. To speed up the process, package text tells kids to press their finger on a circle printed just above the minion’s head.

The brand owner worked with flexible-packaging converter Printpack Inc., Atlanta, to create the package. The thermochromatic inks were supplied by Segan Industries Inc., Burlingame, Calif.

The package aimed to engage kids and their parents while delivering a fun experience. “Leveraging [thermochromic] ink for the ‘Despicable Me 2’ integration allowed us to bring a key piece of the storyline to life in a way that moms and kids found unique and engaging,” says Erica Jensen, integrated marketing manager for Yoplait, which is marketed in the U.S. by General Mills, Minneapolis.

The color-shifting pack generated buzz on social media, as well. “Moms and kids loved the packaging.” Jensen says. “We saw some great Instagram and Vine video postings of moms and kids interacting with the ‘Despicable Me’ tubes.

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