The Food Industry Gets Smart with Labeling

Create: 10/05/2017 - 20:28

Image: Intel Corp.

Smart labels use technology that reaches beyond standard bar codes. With spoil detection-based smart labels, detailed product information is stored in a chip, allowing consumers and businesses to use their smartphones, computers or scanners to pull information that determines the quality and age of the food.

These labels can also provide real-time tracking of products, security assurance against theft, enhancements to the aesthetic appeal of the label, and give manufacturers the ability to re-program.

Enhancing the Personality of a Beer Bottle

One of the first examples of the use of smart labels in the beverage industry comes from Anhueser-Busch, who created a special, limited-edition bottle for its Oculto brand beer.

The company explained the details of its unique packaging approach in a report in Packaging Digest. It set out to create an illuminated bottle to differentiate the beer—and brand—for consumers. Anheuser-Busch partnered with Inland Packaging to leverage smart label technology. The label contained printed electronic pathways, paper batteries, micro switches and LED lights, which came together using a pressure-sensitive label design.

The smart label designers placed the pressure switch where the consumer’s thumb naturally falls while holding a beer bottle. When pressed, the LED lights begin to shine through the eyes of the mask on the front of the bottle, illuminating for about three to four seconds.

“This marks the first time Anheuser-Busch has incorporated the smart label and Internet of Things technology with one of our brands,” says Mallika Monteiro, senior brand director of Oculto. “Specifically, it is the first time we’ve leveraged IoT technology with a bottle scan for one of our brands.”

The company hasn’t stopped there with IoT innovation. In June, its Anheuser-Busch InBev group announced plans for a smart refrigerator business that supplies offices with a variety of beer brands. Using smart label technology, the machine monitors how many beers are left, automatically sending out an order when stock runs low. 

Printed vs. Silicon Sensors: Which is Best?

Smart labels can be made from a variety of materials, and the current debate in the food industry is between printed sensors and silicon-based versions. Printed sensor technology is restricted to the amount of memory it can hold, but it is ever-developing. The affordability and ease of production is leading to broader adoption, which is further driving down the price for printed sensors. Traditional silicon-based sensors are also a great option, but are more expensive and less amenable to the demands required for food packaging.

In a recent article in Forbes, Mike Kavis, vice president and principal architect for Cloud Technology Partners, states, “Sensors come in many shapes and sizes. Traditional silicon-based sensors are a great fit for many IoT use cases but remain more expensive and less flexible than a new breed of printed sensor technology. Printed sensors are becoming an affordable, innovative alternative that might just radically change the landscape for the Internet of connected things.”

Smart Labels on the Rise

According to the U.S. Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), approximately 80 percent of products belonging to food and beverages, pet and personal care, and household verticals will feature a smart label within the next five years. Leading food manufacturing brands, including Hershey, Kellogg, The J.M. Smucker Company and Nestle have started using smart labels.

Smart labels aren’t just for show, as they can monitor temperature, distribution and product freshness. Major food distributors are now partnering with packaging specialists to create specific smart label solutions. A leading U.S.-based logistics company, PakSense, joined forces with Thinfilm and now offers smart labels to food companies specifically for temperature monitoring. Start-up smart label company Flexstr8 in El Segundo, CA, provides NFC-enabled labels for a variety of consumer products, pharmaceuticals and chemicals. It has a temperature logging smart label that can capture the complete temperature history and store it in a label. Meat and poultry producer Tyson Foods has recently added a QR code to some of its chicken products to support expansion in the Chinese market, where consumers prefer to buy very fresh poultry products.


 Image: Intel Corp.

Smart Labels Are the Intelligent Choice

Smart labels are helpful for stores as well as manufacturers. The current smart label solutions can reduce the amount of fresh produce that a store has to dispose of each week. A smart label can also help guarantee that perishable products are securely packaged and are able to reach customers in ideal condition. And it can provide the optimum temperature for the retailer to store and display its beverages and/or food products in the warehouse and in the aisles.

A range of companies now offer smart label solutions that provide temperature indicators for cold or hot requirements. New generations of labels also allow for better food freshness, such as anti-microbial labels, oxygen-absorbing labels, moisture-absorbing labels and leaking indicator labels. Companies are also developing scavenging labels, which extend freshness and protect against mold growth and other spoilage.

If smart labels take off in the food supply chain, they could help take a bite out of the $640 worth of food the average American family throws out each year, an estimate from a 2016 study from Plastics Make It Possible, an advocacy organization of the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

The availability of smart sensors is extending the reach of IoT from the production lines to the grocery store shelves. These next-generation labels provide both consumers and companies within the food and beverage industry a broad scope of benefits, allowing access to detailed product information, and helping to reduce food and beverage waste.

Get the Key Ingredients in Smart Labels

Learn more about the latest IoT food and beverage retail solutions, including smart labels and electronic shelf labels, from Intel. 

About Author

Patricia Schnaidt's picture
Patricia Schnaidt
Patricia Schnaidt is an expert business technology writer. She has held top publishing and editorial positions at InternetWeek, Network Computing, Windows Magazine and LAN Magazine. Schnaidt has written countless articles, lectured extensively, and authored "Enterprise-wide Networking" (Prentice-Hall). She holds a B.A. in Computer Science from Columbia College, Columbia University.

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