The new generation of food and drink packaging

Related tags Intelligent packaging Packaging

The active, controlled and intelligent packaging sector in the US
has experienced significant growth over the past few years,
according to a new report published this month. Does this signify a
trend towards the widespread adoption of traceability in packaging,
writes Anthony Fletcher.

The intelligent packaging sector has experienced significant growth in the food and drink sector, according to a recent report from the Business Communication Company. The concept describes packaging with consumer safety features such as time/temperature indicators, embedded microchips and transparent polymers. The concept also includes radio frequencies technology (RFID), which is designed to help identify the status of food throughout the supply chain.

The report says that the intelligent packaging sector has been led by scan-code and electronic article surveillance (EAS) technologies. However, new advances in radio frequency technology that integrate into the older systems are also rapidly on the rise.

The report predicts that intelligent packaging will witness a huge jump in the number of systems providing food monitoring over the next half-decade. The concept enjoys a turnover of $15 billion in the food and beverage sector alone. The report predicts that intelligent packaging will experience an average annual growth rate (AAGR) of 6.3 per cent through 2008.

Does this suggest a widespread move towards traceable packaging? Although too early to tell, it is clear already that many retailers, such as Wal-Mart, believe that the adoption of RFID is inevitable. The pressure from retailers on suppliers to establish traceability has resulted in a number of intelligent packaging innovations.

For example, US technology company Orbid has developed a coding system that is to be incorporated into CCL Label's newly developed security packaging. The system features security marks that can be unobtrusively incorporated into any of CCL Label's packaging and label designs

"With this innovative labelling and packaging it will be possible to validate the authenticity of products throughout the supply chain, from manufacturer, to distributor, to consumer,"​ said Kevin Simmons, managing director of sales for Orbid.

But food manufacturers insist that expensive hi-tech infrastructure must first be put in place if intelligent packaging systems are to be of real benefit. This point is well understood by Matthew Holland, MES product manager for Siemens UK.

"If this enabling technology is to work, then it has to work at both the manufacturing and the retail end,"​ he said. "This is the Wal-Mart effect - big retailers driving forward RFID. But you need the systems in place - the technology is only as good as the systems you have in place."

Another new concept in food packaging is active packaging. This sector includes oxygen scavengers, moisture controllers and ethylene absorbers to help reduce the pathogens and gases that contribute to food spoilage. The food and drink market represented $2.4 billion of the total $5.9 billion dollar active packaging market in 2003.

Controlled packaging includes aseptic and retort packages, modified air packaging (MAP) and biodegradable packaging. Annual sales of this sector reached $13 billion last year, or approximately 17 per cent of the entire US food packaging industry. MAP/CAP packaging is the fastest growing sector with an AAGR of 13.6 per cent over the next five years.

The reason for this, claims BCC, is simple. Flexible packaging is 75 per cent to 90 per cent lighter than rigid packaging, easier to compact, and take less room in landfills. Aseptic juice boxes for example make up approximately 9 per cent of the juice market but comprise only 3 per cent of the waste.

Business Communications Company's​ report on the US market for active, controlled and intelligent packaging for foods and beverages therefore shows that new products and technologies are challenging the position of traditional forms of food and beverage packaging. It examines the relational values of active, controlled and intelligent packaging, future trends for products such as Insta-Heat and Insta-Cool, Electronic Product codes and other packaging innovations, new advances in active and controlled packaging, and the integration of intelligent packaging systems.

The study estimates that the US sector is currently worth over $38 billion, and is poised to increase at an AAGR of 9.7 per cent between 2003 and 2008. The rest of the world, which has often been ahead of the US in researching and developing new active, controlled and intelligent packaging systems, continues to lead with a forecasted 11.3 per cent AAGR until 2008.

The growth in hi-tech packaging is a therefore a significant development for the food and drink industry. BCC claims that 99.8 per cent of all food and beverage items are at one time encased in some sort of packaging, and that food and beverage packaging is accountable for two-thirds of the $120-billion US packaging industry.

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