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Interactive packaging: What the world is waiting for?

By Annie-Rose Harrison-Dunn+

18-Mar-2014
Last updated the 18-Mar-2014 at 12:44 GMT

Big brands may be dipping their toes in the interactive packaging pool, but two analysts question whether consumers really want this technology and ask if if manufacturers can keep the technology fresh and up to date.

Interest in interactive packaging has been mounting in recent years as the likes of Mondelēz International  and Nestlé began to dabble in the digital PR form.

In 2011 Mondelēz announced its partnership with app maker blippar when the two launched an augmented reality game accessible to consumers with the app installed on their smartphones. Earlier last year, the candy giant licensed a barcode technology through the company NeoMedia, which provided additional information after scanning a QR code with a smartphone. 

Last February Nestlé launched a similar digital scanning system, this time giving smartphone owners access to additional information on the product's nutritional profile as well as a sustainability assessment of its production. 

But Andrew Streeter, director of Consumer Packaging Specialists International (CPS) and packaging innovations director for Datamonitor, said the confectionery industry's remarkably broad consumer base meant challenges awaited confectioners that wanted to use this targeted marketing. 

Business innovation manager for Leatherhead Food Research, Steve Osborn, echoed this reservation saying that while it may be interesting in its ability to make packaging more three dimensional, manufacturers would have to work hard to provide new and consistently engaging content if they expected consumers to see this as more than a passing fad.

Maintaining engagement of a vast audience

Streeter told ConfectioneryNews that the confectionery industry was “quite a strange food group” in that unlike many products its appeal stretched across men and women and all age groups. He said the technology was there, referencing in particular augmented reality, but said this vast target would make it tricky for firm's to hone in on each consumer and give the impression of tailor-made content.   

Meanwhile, Osborn said for foods like confectionery and snacks that could be daily purchases, consumers may be disinclined to repeatedly make use of the features if content was not continually refreshed and engaging.

iPhone users can download an app which then unlocks the information of the QR code. 

Otherwise the packaging could be seen by consumers as a short lived novelty, or perhaps part of the “marketing blurb”, he told ConfectioneryNews.

“There was a move a few years ago towards using QR as a marketing strategy and to show pack information. But I’m not sure the average consumer ever got their head around it. I don’t know if consumers understood them – they just looked like another barcode.”

He said the idea of scanning wasn’t something consumers wanted to do, saying for this reason the augmented reality from apps like blippar was more interesting. “But it still feels like we’re going through a learning process – the consumer, manufacturer and application maker.”       

Do they want it and do they want to pay for it?

Discussing the possibility of recipe suggestions and food waste information, Oborn said: “If you’re buying a loaf of bread you know what you want to do with it.”

He said in terms of targeted marketing and data collection, this was an extension of what had been happening for years with loyalty cards. “So it’s just going to supplement that huge amount of data. I’m not sure how fast that will happen,” he said.

Osborn added that consumers were likely to see this as an extension of “marketing blurb” if it did not come from a third party.  

Meanwhile Streeter warned upping retail prices to cover this new cost would be risky. “History shows, when price is increased, value has to be there.”

Adding value, and risk

However, Streeter said beyond these challenges interactive packaging could tap into the fun and indulgent element of confectionery. “From the point of view of the brand owner, this is an interesting opportunity to extend a brand into the consumer’s world,” he said.

Marketing expert, Professor Richard George, agreed on this point saying interactivity within confectionery has "significant potential". He told ConfectioneryNews: "Candy has always been about fun and entertainment is a logical extension of fun.  Plus, interaction gives confectionery manufacturers an opportunity to learn more about their customers and invite them to contribute to new brand, flavor, packaging ideas, etc."

"The PR benefits generated in these campaigns is priceless," Professor George added.   

Streeter said that this could also be a way of making packaging more valuable, adding it could be interesting if consumers began to hold on to the packaging because of the interactive features. However with this value comes risk, he added, and a responsibility to ensure continuity and quality. “If there’s one thing that is not acceptable then it's technology that doesn’t work.”

This responsibility could sit with the brand, even if ultimately it were a glitch with the app maker or packaging printer, he said. 

Streeter said it was an important development to see the technology he noticed two years ago on a Japanese rigid, can packaging for Bud Weiser move into flow wrapped confectionery which would not previously have been possible.

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