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Asia Pacific: Smart labels indicate freshness of food, says Advanta

You have just received a notification on your smart phone, informing you that the bottle of wine you have bought in the afternoon is now chilled and ready to drink.

Could this scenario ever be a reality in Asia?

Miguel Campos, export sales manager at global packaging supplier Advanta tells Food News International the countries that are at the forefront of smart labelling.

Here are more details.

FNI: With the various types of labels and functions, how can consumers navigate through them and not be confused when browsing through the supermarket?

Campos: Many smart labels are inconspicuous, enabling shoppers to continue with their usual shopping behavior, without feeling overwhelmed by new technology.

That said, those that acknowledge smart labels sooner will reap the benefits.

For instance, these shoppers will be more informed about choosing fresher food, consuming it before it expires and lessening their contribution to food waste.

Researchers at Clarkson University in New York, US, have created a paper-based sensor to inform consumers when food is about to expire.

The sensor changes color when it encounters spoiled food, with the intensity of the color indicating how badly the food has gone off.

The innovation caused a media storm, with suggestions that the technology could significantly cut back on unnecessary food waste.

In Australia, smart labels are being used to detect the ripeness of certain fruits.

In some supermarkets, there are sensor labels that detect the ripeness of a fruit, in combination with a plastic clamshell pack.

Now available in local Woolworths and Coles supermarkets, the packaging captures the aroma of the fruit, and the label then reacts with it to change color from red to yellow, illustrating its ripeness levels.

It could also be argued that the dependence on a plastic clamshell pack is counterintuitive to the end goal of reducing waste, as fruits that are using this packaging, such as pears, can easily be sold loose.

As consumers navigate the supermarket, they will most likely prioritize overall sustainability, rather than choosing a smart label.

The future of this technology should use these intuitive sensors with reusable containers that remain at the supermarket, or recyclable materials such as aluminum, like our foil packaging solutions.

FNI: Consumers face the problem of looking for sell by, use by, expiry dates of products due to how the information is presented and located on products.

In your opinion, how can this be made easier for consumers to locate such information from product to product? Is there a harmonized/common method for the industry to adopt?

Campos: There’s no doubt about it.

Labels need clarity.

Misconceptions on use-by dates, display until dates and best before dates can sometimes cause consumers to throw away good food out of sheer confusion.

Smart labels could make the process much less subjective.

For example, when a label turns a different color, it is clear that the product should no longer be consumed.

This approach can also be used throughout the food supply chain, as ingredients are processed and transported to different facilities.

Researchers from Trinity College in Dublin, Europe, recently announced a major development in nanotechnology.

It is this sort of time-temperature integrative (TTI) technology that tracks the integrity of the cold chain by indicating accumulated exposure of the product to temperatures conducive to more rapid bacterial growth.

Unlike the ‘sell by’ or ‘best before’ dates, which assume proper temperature storage of the product, a TTI indicates the actual product life remaining based on the conditions it has really faced.

These smart labels are set to be used with the bump mark project.

This is a separate development, which uses a layer of gelatin that reacts to environmental conditions, giving consumers up-to-date information on the quality of their perishable food.

This could be particularly beneficial for meat products.

Sainsbury’s, a British supermarket, is testing this technology with the introduction of its ‘Smart Fresh’ label initiative.

This smart label, now found on Sainsbury’s own-brand cooked ham packaging, changes color from yellow to purple over time.

The cooler the ham is being kept, the slower this reaction takes place.

This means if the ham has been left in warm conditions for too long, the label will turn purple rapidly, indicating this product is no longer safe to eat.

It is this use of smart labels throughout the supply chain, from raw ingredients, to supermarket shelves, that will truly demonstrate how this technology can deliver value.

FNI: How well received are intelligent packaging solutions among food and beverage manufacturers?

Campos: With growing pressures to reduce food and packaging waste, any technology that helps the consumer make better decisions on food waste will always be well received.

What’s more, packaging with built-in sensors or microchips can help manufacturers ensure quality and freshness by monitoring the products temperature during its journey to the supermarket shelf.

In the US, it is estimated that consumers throw away US$29 billion worth of edible food each year.

In fact, America’s heavy-weight supermarkets are now involved in the food waste debate, with Walmart working towards a zero-waste future.

In light of this, a smart label digital initiative has been launched by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute across the food, snacks and baking industry.

In a program created in collaboration with manufacturers and retailers, consumers are now able to scan quick response or QR codes to receive more information on particular products.

Some of the tens of thousands of products that are smart label-enabled include Flowers Foods, Nature’s Own and Dave’s Killer Bread, among others.

But, the US food industry is also dipping its toes into other technologies to enhance its smart labelling efforts.

Resistance may occur for lower price point products.

Food manufacturers need to keep these ranges at low prices, and therefore may not want to invest in new packaging technology.

That said, a smart label comes in many forms, from high tech color changing stickers to simple QR codes.

FNI: How is the packaging and labelling scene in Asia? What are the opportunities and pitfalls for label providers to food and beverage manufacturers?

Campos: The smart labels market in Asia Pacific is expected to register a compound annual growth rate of 19.2% between 2017 and 2023.

Like other continents, food labelling in this region is set to change with the introduction of new technology.

Any technology that improves the consumer’s ability to use food safely, with minimal wastage will be backed by retailers.

Yet equally, the continent must ensure that packaging as a whole is sustainable, as simply placing a smart sensor label on plastic packaging would not tackle the bigger issues in the food industry, such as packaging recyclability.

There is huge scope for food and beverage manufacturers in Asia to combine smart label technology with plastic packaging alternatives.

Mismatched priorities could be a pitfall for the industry.

For example, if label providers are aiming to reduce food waste, but food manufacturers are prioritizing low costs, suddenly there is a hurdle.

However, the industry will see a positive transformation over the next 12 months.

This will be aided by food manufacturers choosing aluminum packaging for its unrivalled recyclability, for use with smart label technology.

Equally, an increase in this packaging material will help reduce food waste as it is able to keep products colder for longer and can endure a wider range of temperatures compared to plastic.