Eef de Ferrante, director, Active and Intelligent Packaging Industry Association, (AIPIA ) told FoodProductionDaily.com that while take up of the technology had been slower than once predicted, this was about to change.
He is convinced the technology is close to a tipping point with demand poised to soar thanks to a combination of the volume of market-ready products, falling costs and the burgeoning interest from across the value chain including brand owners, retailers and mobile phone companies.
“I would say the coming two years will be crucial,” predicted de Ferrante. “In this period the top 50 companies have to meet to decide what to do, which of the existing or emerging technologies will receive the most focus and how they plan to solve questions over costs.”
He said that AIPIA would not try to influence this direction but wanted to facilitate the discussions that help the top players achieve this.
“All the technology is in the packaging. If it is not in the packaging, then it is nowhere,” said de Ferrante. “We need the packaging industry to embrace this belief and show the value chain players such as brand owners and retail what packaging can do. It is time for the packaging industry to be proactive or they could be out of business in 10 years.”
The industry body chief added: “If you are not in the loop, you are out of it. It is time to stop waiting and start using these market-ready products.”
Blue chip members
This conviction led to the formation of AIPIA at the start of 2012 –which already has around 40 blue chip members – including BASF, Dow Performance Packaging, DuPont, DSM and Nestle Research Center. Mobile phone companies have also joined given the huge potential to use technology embedded in packaging on supermarket shelves to communicate with consumers through smartphones.
“All these companies are looking closely at market and they know something is going to happen in the near future,” said de Ferrante. “There has been a lot of talking, research and money invested over the past 10 or 15 years. We are not saying this should stop but we feel now is the time to examine the commercial possibilities of A&I packaging very strongly.”
He acknowledged that cost remained a barrier and said that a major issue for packaging suppliers and brand owners was how this would be passed on and whether retailers and consumers were willing to pay a technology premium.
“The packaging industry is a conservative one and for them it is all about money. Packaging is often seen by consumers as expensive and wasteful but we are convinced the case can be made to show that A&I packaging actually saves money and waste by offering extended shelf life for products,” he said.
AIPIA intends to be a hands-on organisation, well placed to bring together all parts of the supply chain to develop standards, implementation processes and communications platforms between production, packaging, logistics and the retailers.
He said it was time for the entire supply chain to sit down together and decide on how to make this happen.
“All players in the supply chain use their own technology so why not see how we can adapt this so the same devices can be used in say transport, distribution and retail as way to reduce costs,” suggested the AIPIA chief as an example of how a collaborative approach could yield progress.
The group will also monitor and react to new regulation and legislation about food waste, thus helping the industry to adapt existing products and develop new ones as the legal landscape evolved.
AIPIA’s next move is to hold a showcase event in Japan in October 2012 where companies from across the supply chain will meet to set the future agenda.
“Japan is further ahead in implementing and using active and intelligent packaging so will be an excellent venue for a first meeting,” he said. “It had been already been done in Japan, so what are we waiting for in Europe and North America?"
De Ferrante said the meeting would see the production of an action plan and development programmes to speed up the commercial use A&I packaging.