Not too many years ago, a consumer entering a grocery store faced a plethora of products in nearly identical packages with only slight variations in color, font and logo. Today, the diversity of packaging options is refreshing, attractive, sensible and fun.
Form truly meets function in the modern plastic packaging industry. Innovative polymer additives block harmful UV light, safeguard against counterfeiting and create aesthetically unique special effects. Other packaging trends take advantage of mobile devices and IoT (Internet of Things) technology to reinvent an entire industry with an eye toward augmented interactivity.
Walking into a grocery store or supercenter today is a visual treat for all ages. Reimagined potato chip bags challenge us to learn new package-opening rituals with easy-to-open resealable flaps. Carbonated beverages viewed through a camera phone treat us to an entertaining augmented-reality label come to life. And creative single-serving snack containers beckon to our love of convenience and novelty.
Since the dawn of the industrial era, most products have become synonymous with their packaging; a bag of chips, a can of soup, a box of cereal and so on. But modern packaging is trending away from tradition and toward improved materials, styles and functions.
Soup now comes in single-serving boxes lined with a polymer coating and sealed with a plastic smart cap. Potato chip bags can be safely opened without risking an explosion of crushed chips all over the living room carpet. Cereal is now packaged complete with a serving of milk and ready to be mixed and eaten with a gentle tug of a plastic tab separating the dry and wet ingredients.
Near field communication (NFC) is available on almost every mobile device in production. Given NFC’s proliferation, manufacturers were bound to take the prolific NFC technology and apply it to packaging and marketing. Packages with NFC technology allow consumers to “scan” products by holding their phones or tablets near a product on the shelf. The NFC signal triggers the mobile device to open a webpage, open the brand’s app-download page or load a coupon image.
NFC can also communicate information to a device about the state of the product in the package. How fresh is it? When is its pull date? Were recycled materials used in the package? Is the product protected against microbes and bacteria? Modern shoppers want to know specific details about what they are purchasing, how the product is kept fresh, how long it will last, and how they can save money on the same product next time.
Mobile devices can be incorporated into packaging in more ways than one. Augmented reality technology uses a phone’s camera to overlay a virtual image on top of the real image of a product, giving the consumer a view into the product that nobody else can see.
Plastic beverage packages suddenly come to life with a dancing figure and a menu of information about the product. Plastic building blocks appear on an excited child’s tablet screen, showing him or her what the toy will look like once the blocks are put together. Animations can demonstrate the safety or efficiency of a product.
Augmented reality is limited only by a manufacturer’s imagination and, when used appropriately, could be invaluable to marketing products in the near future.
One of the main drawbacks to traditional plastic packaging, especially in the food and beverage industries, has been the diffusion of oxygen across the polymer barrier. Modern smart packaging now incorporates functional additives such as antioxidants, oxygen scavengers, UV stabilizers and antimicrobials.
Flame-retardant additives added to plastic compounds and concentrates can protect products ranging from electronic equipment to attic insulation from high heat and the danger of combustion. Scent additives also are becoming very popular in the food and beverage, cosmetic, toy and sanitary industries.
Recent highly publicized lawsuits have increased the public’s awareness of plastics counterfeiting. Aston Martin’s infamous recall of pedal arms and Boston Scientific’s transvaginal mesh debacle are just two examples of how costly plastic counterfeiting can be to a corporation.
Anti-counterfeiting additives for plastics include taggants (nearly microscopic, custom-formulated particles) designed to be invisible to the naked eye. Once incorporated into a resin, covert taggants can be “read” anywhere along the supply chain by UV or laser-detection devices. Other anti-counterfeiting solutions include overt pigments that give a unique visual signature (such as color-changing effects) to plastic and fluorescence under specified light wavelengths.
Plastics Color’s Solutions Center has a team of laboratory technicians, regulatory affairs experts and product marketing specialists ready to assist customers with color matching, compounding, laboratory services and quality compliance needs.
Polymers can be formulated with additives ranging from UV stabilizers to flame-retardants to fit customers’ exact needs. Contact a Plastics Color representative today to learn more.